The YMCA Gets Another Chance (Or: But Only In Secret)


Image: Opening of the HIA enquiry in Northern Ireland 13th January 2014 (Source:

The Australian royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse was due to resume a hearing today on the YMCA abuses. However, Chief Commissioner Peter McClellan has decided that there will be no oral presentation. Only written submissions, presumably from the YMCA, will be accepted, and not released, so nothing about it can be reported upon. The royal commission continues to be as transparent as black coal.

On the other hand, the Northern Ireland enquiry into child institutional abuses has been very transparent. The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) enquiry is headed by a retired High Court judge, unlike the royal commission which is only headed by a State-level judge who was merely appointed to the New South Wales Appeals Court two months after his appointment as the chief royal commissioner.

The HIA enquiry will not limit itself to sexual abuse, as is the case for the Australian enquiry.

The Australian enquiry will only hear from less than 0.1% of victims in public, whereas the HIA enquiry (see previous posting) will hear from all 434 victims in person, or in writing where they chose to (often because of infirmity), many with harrowing claims of abuse.

Justice Hart said that: “Of the 434 who made formal applications to the Inquiry ,46 only wanted to speak to the private and confidential part of the process called the Acknowledgment Forum, and 362 have so far said they wish to speak to the public part of the Inquiry.”

Another great difference between the HIA and royal commission enquiries is that the former will be “inquisitorial” rather than “adversarial”, while the royal commission is adversarial. This means that at the Australian enquiry, victims may be cross-examined by the offending institutions’ lawyers, and thus potentially subjected to further psychological abuse.

Justice Hart stated that: “Not only will their evidence be vital to the Inquiry, but it is our hope that every applicant who gives evidence to the public hearings, or only speaks to the private and confidential part of the Inquiry, will have the satisfaction of knowing that their experiences are at last being listened to and investigated“.

Of those, about 60 are now in Australia, with several having died since the enquiry was announced in 2012. The HIA staff has been in Australia to record their testimony, and it is expected that they will return sometime this year to collect further evidence.

Because of national jurisdictional considerations, the HIA enquiry will only consider abuses at institutions in Northern Ireland, which were mostly run by the Catholic Church, and in particular the Sisters of Nazareth and the De la Salle Brothers. State-run facilities and Bernardo’s institutions will also be considered.

One of the reasons why there are so many Australian victims is that about 120 of the victims were sent to Australian institutions under the “Child Migration Scheme” (see previous posting). About half of them have already died. The largest number went to Western Australia, including the Christian Brothers’ Children’s Homes at Clontarf and the infamous Bindoon facility (see previous postings).

Unfortunately, the HIA enquiry cannot investigate these Australian institutions, but the royal commission has an obligation to provide the HIA enquiry with assistance about these Homes.

One of the Children’s Homes the Irish boys were sent to was the Salvation Army’s Riverview Home in Queensland State. It was eventually blacklisted by the U.K. government in 1956. The royal commission will be holding a hearing on Riverview, as well as three other Salvation Army Boys’ Homes (Bexley, Gill Memorial Home and Alkira where Irish child migrants may also have ended up) beginning 28th January, while the HIA enquiry will commence its main public hearings on the day before (which is a public holiday in Australia for Australia Day).

While the Northern Ireland enquiry will rightly focus on what happened to their children in Irish institutions, the abuse did not stop there for the Irish child migrants. It would be expected that the 60 or so surviving child migrants to Australia will be given the opportunity to tell of what happened to them here in Australia as well as in Northern Ireland.

The author will make a bet that the royal commission will not make mention of the Irish child migrants sent to the Salvation Army Boys’ Homes which it will begin investigating next week. The Salvation Army claims to have lost all records of child migrants sent to its Children’s Homes in Australia.

The Australian government should apologize to the Irish for how it treated their children after they were sent to Australia. It did amount, after all, to child “transportation”. (Transportation was the system whereby convicts from the U.K. were sent to Australian penal colonies in the 19th century, including Irish dissidents such as the Fenians).

The abuses in the Australian institutions for these Irish children was every bit as bad as, and sometimes even worse than, what they endured in the Irish institutions. For example, Margaret Gibson was sent to the Sisters of Nazareth in Geraldton, Western Australia, where she says she and some of the other girls were “regularly stripped naked and beaten” in front of other children. She reports an incident where another nun “kicked her down the landing of the stairs“. When she was 12 or 13, Ms Gibson was sent away to a family for the summer holidays, where she says the father “fondled her breasts and genitals while pushing against her”.

Many were told they had no family, when this was not true. Paddy Monaghan was told throughout his life that he had no family only to discover – too late – that his mother lived until 1999. Two other witnesses whose story will be told at the HIA enquiry (but probably not at the Royal Commission) will be Mary Armstrong and Mary Smith. They were barely in their teens when they were transported to Australia in 1947, but they remember it well, 67 years later.

The first hearing of the HIA enquiry will cover Nazareth House Children’s Home in Bishop Street, and St Joseph’s Home in Termonbacca which were both run by the same order of nuns – the Sisters of Nazareth

[A list of the institutions to be covered by the HIA enquiry is given below.]

In the “read more here” section there are some blogs and other sites which give much more detail, and insight, into the abuses Northern Ireland citizens suffered, both at home, and after involuntary transportation to Australia, than the author ever could.

It is the hope of this author that the Northern Ireland HIA enquiry officials will not be overly careful of offending the Australian government when it examines what happened to their child migrants. Both stories need to be told for about 60 of the victims to have their chance, to finally tell the public in both countries, of what happened to them at the hands of church and state organisations.

[Postscript: The Chief Commissioner of the Australian royal commission, Peter McClellan, continues to refuse permission for the author to give evidence, or present a submission, at the up-coming hearings on abuses at the Salvation Army’s Indooroopilly Boys’ Home (“Alkira”) where the author once lived. The Salvation Army has been given such permission.]

Addendum: List of Institutions for the HIA enquiry:

Local authority homes:

  • Lissue Children’s Unit, Lisburn
  • Kincora Boys’ Home, Belfast
  • Bawnmore Children’s Home, Newtownabbey

Juvenile justice institutions:

  • St Patrick’s Training School, Belfast
  • Lisnevin Training School, County Down
  • Rathgael Training School, Bangor

Secular voluntary homes:

  • Barnardo’s Sharonmore Project, Newtownabbey
  • Barnardo’s Macedon, Newtownabbey

Catholic Church-run homes:

  • St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca, Londonderry
  • Nazareth House Children’s Home, Derry
  • Nazareth House Children’s Home, Belfast
  • Nazareth Lodge Children’s Home, Belfast
  • De La Salle Boys’ Home, Kircubbin, County Down

Read more here:

See more here:


Image: Victims Margaret McGuckin, left, and Alison Diver (Source: The Guardian)


Image: Mary Armstrong and Mary Smith (Source: ABC “Lateline”)


Image: Paddy Monaghan (Source: ABC “Lateline”)


Image: HIA head Justice Hart

TOMORROW: Commission revisits “Towards Healing”

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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