Many children of residential care homes run by Catholic nuns in Northern Ireland were made to eat their own vomit, a lawyer has told a public inquiry into child abuse in Northern Ireland.
Others who wet their beds were forced to put soiled sheets on their heads and beaten by members of a harsh regime which was devoid of love, the largest inquiry into abuse at UK residential homes was told.
Young people at Sisters of Nazareth properties in Derry were known by their numbers rather than names and many allegedly subjected to humiliation, threats and physical abuse, counsel to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Christine Smith QC said.
Senior counsel to the inquiry, Ms Smith, said complaints received by the inquiry relate to “sexual abuse by peers, older children, ex-residents, visiting priests or employees of the congregation and, in at least one instance, by a nun”.
Reference would also be made “to physical assaults by sisters and civilian workers, including assaults with implements… such as straps, sticks, a hair brush or a kettle flex,” she said.
Other allegations related to “bathing in Jeyes Fluid, bullying by older children, denigration of a child’s family, the separation of siblings and not informing children that they had siblings often residing with them in the home.”
Ms Smith also referred to “public humiliation of children who wet the bed by, for example, calling them names and making them stand with wet sheets over their heads and being beaten for bed wetting”.
Some children alleged they suffered “excessive and inappropriate physical labour such as farm labouring, polishing floors, working in the laundry – all at the expense of recreation or play activities”.
The treatment of children in Church-run residential homes is a key concern of the investigation being held in Banbridge, Co Down.
It is chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart and is considering cases over a period of more than 70 years.
The inquiry also heard that children had complained “of being hungry and of poor-quality food”.
“There are complaints of forced feeding,” she added. “Some claimed that when this was done they were ill and were made to eat their own vomit.”
The Sisters of Nazareth also ran an orphanage at a few miles away in Fahan, Co Donegal, and on occasion children were transferred across the border.
Ms Smith referenced one particular case where a child born in the Republic was sent to Derry and later moved to Australia under a migrant scheme.
The first witnesses to give oral evidence to the inquiry will be heard today.
Public hearings are due to finish in June 2015, with the inquiry team to report to Stormont’s power-sharing Executive by the start of 2016.