The nuns who ran Termonbacca Boys’ Home in Derry failed to act over serious and repeated episodes of sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against young children.
That was one of a number of key conclusions reached by the Historical Abuse Inquiry .
A harrowing catalogue of abuse was detailed by the Inquiry, including improper sexual and physical behaviour and emotional abuse perpetrated by older boys, individual sisters, several priests and visitors .
St, Joseph’s Boys Home in Termonbacca received 1,834 children into its care over 60 years stretching back to the 1920s. The Inquiry concluded that much of the bullying and abuse at Termonbacca was linked to an inadequate number of nuns tasked with looking after such a large number of boys, leading them to rely on older boys to supervise younger boys.
While some witnesses spoke out in defence of the Sisters and examples of good practise such as day trips were highlighted in the report, there were many shocking allegations upheld.
The Inquiry team concluded that “repeated episodes of non-consensual sexual activity were perpetrated by older boys,” in dormitories at night and while nuns were at prayer as well as at other times, as well as by ex-residents and others including several priests.
When the abuse by older boys was reported to individual nuns, however, no precautionary measures were taken.
ATMOSPHERE OF FEAR
In terms of physical violence the Inquiry team concluded that assaults by Sisters on children led to “a pervasive atmosphere of fear.” Adding: “The allegations ranged from beating with whatever implement in the form of a chair leg or an electric flex came to hand; the practise of ‘knuckling,’ that is hitting a child on the head with the knuckles; or striking the child on the head with a bunch of keys, as well as other forms of blows with hands, or in some instances feet.
“Although in almost every instance, any form of physical chastisement or attack was denied by the surviving Sisters who gave evidence, nevertheless, we are satisfied that there was a large body of credible evidence . . . of persistent and widespread resort . . . to a practise of severe, frequent and wholly unjustified physical chastisement of children.”
Younger boys were also beaten by older boys for not cleaning the floor properly, while children were also forced to bath in water with excessive amounts of Jeyes Fluid, the Inquiry found.
The Sisters at Termonbacca were also found to have routinely inspected the underwear of children for signs of sexual activity “in an insensitive and public fashion” followed by verbal and physical abuse if staining was found.
The report further found that boys who wet the bed were made to stand with the wet sheets over their heads and paraded to the bathroom.
The report found “overwhelming evidence” that the attitude of many Sisters towards bed wetting was backward, extremely unsympathetic and harshly punitive,” from the 1940s right through to the 1960s.