Religious orders’ contrition cuts little ice with NI abuse victims

“I don’t accept their apology and I never will,” says victim of Brendan Smyth

The Sisters of Nazareth and the De La Salle Brothers again issued apologies to those who suffered abuse in their care homes after the latest safeguarding report was published on Wednesday, but the expressions of contrition didn't wash with some of the people who spent time in these institutions.

Margaret McGuckin says she suffered physical abuse over an eight-year period from 1958 while at a home run by the Sisters of Nazareth on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast. She and her sister and two brothers were taken into care after her mother, as she says, "went walkabout" and a parish priest and welfare officials decided her father could not cope.

One of her brothers, who she says suffered sexual abuse at the De La Salle Rubane House in Kircubbin in Co Down, is still in state care.

As chief spokeswoman for Savia – Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse – and after being heavily involved in the recently concluded Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, she has been very busy for several years. But now she has more time to think.

Before the report was published on Wednesday morning, Ms McGuckin spent time with her therapist, where she learned why all her life she has had an anxious tendency to hold her breath.

“It was because of the fear of the nuns coming near you when you were three years of age, remembering the whole regime, the footsteps coming towards you – you just dreaded what was happening,” she says.

“There was no love there at all, no Christian attitudes, none whatsoever.”

On the run

She has three sons and again as part of her experience says: “I was always on the run away from them, not thinking you were good enough for them. You were imagining that they hated you . . . I could hardly be emotional with them when you did not have love instilled in you [as a child]. You are afraid that you will be shunned.”

She adds that she was never able to have a proper long-standing relationship with any man, again because of her own anxieties and self-doubts, but explains it with humorous spin: “There would be a trial run – and then I would run.”

She notes the apology issued by Sr Cora McHale of the Sisters of Nazareth, who said “it was always the desire of the order to provide a safe place for children and when we failed on any occasion we want to express our deepest regret”.

But Ms McGuckin was unimpressed. “These are only words. She hasn’t a clue, for she wasn’t there at the time. We know who ran them places at the time and they were not sorry. She can’t apologise for other people; she doesn’t understand; she doesn’t get it. She does not know what went on in them dark days.”

Sam Adair was in care with the Sisters of Nazareth in Nazareth Lodge from the age of four in the late 1960s, also on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, and from the age of 13 with the De La Salle Brothers in Rubane House in Kircubbin.

He never knew his father, while his mother had 10 children with 10 different men. In both Nazareth Lodge and Rubane House, he says he was sexually abused by the notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

He says Smyth was “seen as the next thing to God to the Sisters of Nazareth” when he visited and occasionally stayed in Nazareth Lodge.

Awful wrong

Mr Adair, a 53-year-old married father of three grown-up children, is an antique dealer and piano repairer living in


, Co Down. He says that as well as Smyth’s abuse, he was also sexually abused by two De La Salle brothers.

The statement from the De La Salle Brothers on Wednesday apologising for the “awful wrong done to survivors of child sex abuse and their families” did not make any impression on him.

“People’s lives were absolutely destroyed,” he says, “You have got to realise the violence that was inflicted, the torture for no reason whatsoever.” He feels those who abused should also suffer through prison sentences. “There is just no justice in the whole thing.”

So he sees no value in the apology. And he knows he can’t find forgiveness for those who inflicted or turned blind eyes to the abuse. “They are saying they are sorry, but they have no choice but to say that . . . I don’t accept their apology and I never will.”