Inquiry into NI child abuse announced
Chairman of the historical institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland, Sir Anthony Hart , with a campaign poster in his Belfast office. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
A state inquiry into historical institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland will initially investigate 35 residential facilities.
The locations comprise 15 state-run children’s homes, 13 institutions run by Catholic Church orders, four borstals or training schools, and three institutions run by Protestant denominations or voluntary sector organisations.
Chairman of the inquiry Sir Anthony Hart revealed the number as he appealed for more abuse victims to come forward to tell their stories.
The statutory probe was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate institutions run by the state and church and also those owned by the private sector or voluntary bodies from 1922 to 1995.
More than 175 people have so far contacted the inquiry to outline their experiences in care, with around 90 interviewed to date.
Allegations made so far have led to the light being shone on the 35 facilities.
But if more victims come forward and make further claims, more institutions could be examined.
To date the inquiry has identified more than 170 facilities which operated during the time-period, including children’s homes, orphanages, industrial schools, workhouses, borstals, hospital units and schools for children with disabilities.
The facilities were named on the applications of those wanting to come forward to the inquiry with claims of abuse. Sir Anthony said the sites would not be identified publicly at this stage of the probe.
The chairman added that only when his team had spoken to all of the individuals would it be determined if each of the sites would be subject to a full investigation.
He stressed that the number of organisations under potential investigation was fewer than the number of facilities, as one body or group may have operated a number of homes at different sites.
The chairman indicated that further facilities could yet come under focus.
“If we receive allegations from someone who was in a specific institution as a child, allegations that suggest children were abused in that institution, or if our own researches reveal evidence that suggest that children might have been abused in an institution even if no-one has come forward to make allegations about that institution, then we will investigate that institution,” he said.
The majority of the 15 state-owned residential homes were run by local authorities. One was a workhouse which went out of existence just after the Second World War.
Of the three non-Catholic voluntary institutions under investigation, Sir Anthony said they were either associated with a Protestant denomination or were run by a secular organisation.
Those who have come forward have been invited to recount their experiences in a so-called acknowledgement forum, designed to provide a relaxed and private environment for people to unburden themselves.
Participants can then to give evidence before lawyers at one of the inquiry’s hearings.
Sir Anthony said the inquiry would not be confined to investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse.
“We are also concerned with other types of behaviour that can amount to abuse,” he explained.
“That could include emotional abuse, neglect and ill-treatment. Emotional abuse could include humiliating children in front of others, or treating them in a harsh or unfeeling way, for example by concealing from children the identity of brothers and sisters, or even that they had brothers and sisters.
“Neglect could involve providing inadequate food or clothing. Ill-treatment could include making young children do hard and inappropriate physical labour for hours at a time.
“These are not meant to be exhaustive definitions of the type of conduct that could amount to abuse. They are some examples of the types of the behaviour that the inquiry knows that it will have to consider because they have been described to the acknowledgement forum by some of those who have already spoken to it.”
Sir Anthony launched a publicity campaign in Belfast today in a bid to encourage more victims to come forward.
As well as promotional activity throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland, advertising will stretch to the other side of the world.
“We know that children from institutions in Northern Ireland were sent to Australia in the years after the Second World War, and there may well be people in Australia, and in other countries such as Canada and the United States, who should know that this inquiry is investigating abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland,” said the chairman.
“We have had some contact with media organisations in Australia, and we intend to make our existence better known there and in other countries.”