Woman's action over alleged abuse in orphanage is dismissed over delay

Woman had sued trustees of order that ran a Dublin orphanage and adjoining school

Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times


A woman’s action over alleged sexual and physical abuse of her in the 1960s at a Dublin orphanage run by nuns has been dismissed by the High Court on grounds the religious order could not get a fair trial due to delay in bringing the case.

Mr Justice Robert Barr said, as the primary perpetrators of the alleged abuse are either dead or unidentified, he was satisfied the religious congregation cannot get a fair trial “at this remove.”

The woman, aged in her 60s, had sued the trustees of the order which ran the Dublin orphanage and its adjoining primary school. She claimed abuse occurred she was in the orphanage from 1965 to 1969, aged between seven and 11.

She initiated her proceedings in April 2017. The defendants denied her claims and applied for a strike out of her case on grounds they were prejudiced by her delay in bringing it. The woman claimed sexual and physical abuse was carried out by older girls who were entrusted with the care of the younger girls. The older girls were called “charge girls.”

She said she was sexually abused by various charge girls at bath time when they would touch her private parts and that her head was pushed under the water. She was further physically abused when the charge girls would torment her and push her out of bed causing her to urinate on the floor, she said.

When this happened, she said two nuns, who have since died, made her kneel for prolonged periods in one place. She was not allowed use the toilet during this time and as a result frequently soiled her clothes, she said.

The nuns would make her continue wearing the clothes and send her to class wearing the soiled garments, she said.

Charge girls would place a large quantity of salt in her food which would make her sick and she would be punished by the nuns for this, she also claimed. They called her “useless”, “a horrible child” and “evil,” she alleged. She claimed the alleged abuse caused her to suffer severe and prolonged psychiatric difficulties which persisted throughout her life.

Part of her claim was the charge girl system was tolerated or condoned by the nuns. Alternatively, she claimed the nuns failed to exercise control in relation to that supervision and “outsourced” it to the charge girls.

She was unable to identify the names of the charge girls who allegedly mistreated her.

The defendants denied the allegations and said, as a result of a 48-year delay in taking the case, they were severely prejudiced in relation to their ability to defend it. This was particularly so due to the deaths of two named nuns who were principal teachers in the school attached to the orphanage and did not actually work in the orphanage itself, they said.

In response to the defence, the woman said other women who were in the orphanage at the same time as her recalled such treatment being meted out and their testimony would be sufficient to counter any prejudice alleged by the defendants.

Mr Justice Barr said the court does not look at any question of blame on the part of the woman in not bringing her case earlier but rather at whether it is likely, as things stand at present, the defendant can get a fair hearing. He was satisfied the defendants had established, due to delay on the woman’s part, they cannot get a fair trial, and dismissed the case.