The Investigation Committee held both public and private hearings in respect of Goldenbridge. Sr Helena O’Donoghue, Provincial Leader of the South Central Province, gave evidence to the Committee in a public session on 15th March 2005. Her evidence was based on a detailed Opening Statement submitted in advance of the hearing.
In the third stage of the inquiry into Goldenbridge (Phase III), a public hearing was convened on 15th May 2006 at the Herbert Park Hotel, Ballsbridge, and Sr Helena O’Donoghue once again gave evidence on behalf of the Congregation. This session focused on issues that arose as a result of the private hearings and the documentary material produced to the Committee.
Sr Helena O’Donoghue stated that at one time Goldenbridge paid an annual levy to Carysfort and, at another period in time, all income went to Carysfort and an agreed budget was returned.
Shortly after the airing of ‘Dear Daughter’, Sr Alida was interviewed on the current affairs programme, Prime Time. In the course of that interview, she admitted that she had been harsh at times, but denied that children were abused in the horrific way described in many of the headlines. According to Sr Helena O’Donoghue, ‘This denial would appear to have been almost completely ignored in the public domain and it would appear that judgment had been given’.
On 15th March 2005, Sr Helena O’Donoghue made an Opening Statement at the public Phase I hearing in relation to Goldenbridge. Whilst she admitted that there was undoubtedly a regime that, by today’s standards, would be described as harsh and severe, the Sisters were not satisfied that it was an abusive regime or that children were wilfully neglected whilst in their care.
In the Opening Statement delivered by Sr Helena O’Donoghue, the bead making work was characterised as a pleasant activity to while away the time, which was enjoyed by the children and often done to music from the radio. A picture was painted of a busy workroom, where happy children chatted as they carried out this routine work. It is apparent that this description is based on information from Sr Alida.
This description of bead making by Sr Helena was inaccurate. The work was hard. The hours were long. While some girls were well capable of doing the work once they had got used to it, for many others it was difficult to master the dexterity required. There was pressure to achieve the quota and to keep to the required standard of work. The work could fail in a variety of ways, including obvious ones like not having the right number of beads in a decade. Less obvious and more difficult to avoid were errors such as having inconsistent-sized loops of wire joining the beads. The atmosphere was not the pleasant group activity imagined by Sr Helena and remembered by Sr Alida. The essential requirement was of quietly, if not silently, getting on with the work; the children did converse but mostly in whispers, and the radio was turned on only occasionally while this work was being done.