Orphanage nuns apologise for hurt to children


THE Congregation of the Sisters of the Mercy has apologised for the personal hurt and distress a caused to children at its former orphanage in Goldenbridge, Dublin, over 30 years ago. The nuns have also set up a confidential telephone help line service.

In response to an RTE television documentary, Dear Daughter, which will be screened tonight, they have expressed "the deepest regret and sorrow" that those in their care should have experienced such hardship.

The helpline will be staffed by professional counsellors and will be open to callers immediately after the programme is broadcast.

"We, the Sisters of Mercy, are deeply concerned, saddened and distressed by the graphic accounts of life in the former orphanage in Goldenbridge, Inchicore," the statement said. "The matters contained in the programme date back over 30 years ago, and came to our attention during the course of an RTE radio interview in 1993.

"We publicly responded at that time, and offered counselling to women who had suffered. We have been, and are continually looking into these matters with the assistance of independent expertise," the statement said.

Sister Helena O'Donoghue, provincial of the congregation, told The Irish Times that the order had passed on information relevant to the programme to gardai and would cooperate totally if anything of a criminal nature emerged. The time lag would be a factor in pursuing specific allegations, she said.

The documentary records the experience of children who were1 subjected to physical and psychological abuse in the Goldenbridge orphanage in the 1940s and 1950s. Two of the women, Ms Christine Buckley and Ms Caroline Hunt, recall how their bodies were bruised from daily beatings and how they were deprived of food.

Ms Buckley was the daughter of a 31 year old married woman from Dublin and a 20 year old Nigerian medical student, and is now a nurse and mother. Ms Hunt had had psychiatric treatment and was a drug abuser, but is now also married with three children.

"Life in the Ireland of the 1940s and 1950s was generally harsh for most people," the Sisters of Mercy said. "This was reflected in orphanages which were, for the most part, under funded, under staffed and under resourced. In these circumstances, many sisters gave years of dedicated service. Notwithstanding these facts, clearly mistakes were made.

"Irrespective of the passage of time, as a Congregation we now ask for forgiveness for all our failures," the sisters said. The orders would review and monitor procedures, personnel and facilities constantly. The sisters were committed to doing all in their power to ensure that people in their care had a loving, protective and supportive environment.

The helpline, which opens after, tonight's documentary is broadcast, will stay open until 2 a.m. and will remain open during working hours tomorrow and over the weekend. The number is 1 800 800 123 for callers from the Republic. Callers in the North should phone 0800 973 043.