Inquiry into institutional child abuse in North opens
Treatment of children in care homes over seven decades under investigation
A view of the courtroom at Banbridge where public hearings into allegations of historical child abuse in church- and state-run homes in Northern Ireland will begin today. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart inside the courtroom at Banbridge in Northern Ireland: in excess of 300 witnesses are expected to appear in public. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
A judicial inquiry into child abuse in Northern Ireland residential care homes over more than seven decades opens today.
Under investigation is the treatment of children in a range of children’s homes, borstals, training schools, juvenile justice centres, hospitals and orphanages between 1922 and 1995.
Sir Anthony Hart QC will chair proceedings which, under the terms of the inquiry, must end by mid-2015 and report by January the following year.
The inquiry, ordered by the Stormont Executive in January last year, will sit in Banbridge courthouse in Co Down.
A total of 13 institutions are under investigation by the inquiry in relation to allegations of historical institutional abuse and/or neglect. The inquiry has the power to decide to investigate other institutions.
Under investigation by the inquiry are residential homes run by the North’s local authorities, juvenile justice institutions, secular residential centres in the voluntary sector, and other voluntary homes run by the Catholic Church.
The scale of its work is vast, with more than 300 witnesses expected to appear in public.
Most of these witnesses will give their testimony in person before the tribunal, while a few will appear via a video-link and the remainder will give their evidence in a written statement.
A total of 435 individuals have applied to speak to the inquiry, 20 of whom are from the Republic. More than 60 of those applications are from those now resident in Australia. This is as a result of a policy of sending children from institutions in Northern Ireland to Australia under British government child migration policy.
The inquiry falls into two parts. The first takes the form of an Acknowledgment Forum to which victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse can talk in private about what happened to them when they were children living in these institutions.
The inquiry’s Acknowledgment Forum has already met 263 applicants.
The other part includes a statutory inquiry which offers victims and survivors an opportunity, if they prefer, to describe their experiences directly to the statutory inquiry through its legal team and, if required, at public hearings.
Today’s proceedings will begin with a short opening address from the inquiry’s chairman. He will be followed by an opening address from senior counsel to the inquiry, Christine Smith.
She is expected to provide a general overview of the structure of the inquiry, and the issues and questions which it will address. Her opening remarks will conclude, it is expected, tomorrow afternoon.
Legal representatives for any of the “core participants” who wish to deliver a short opening address will be given the opportunity to do so by Sir Anthony.
Provision has been made for this section of the inquiry to continue until Wednesday. After that, the inquiry will reconvene in public in Banbridge on Monday, January 27th, with the commencement of what the inquiry refers to as the first “thematic module” of evidence.
Sisters of Nazareth
This will focus on two former institutions in Derry, both of which were run by the Sisters of Nazareth. They are St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca, and Nazareth House Children’s Home on Bishop Street in the city.
As heads of the Stormont Executive, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have already ordered the provision of drop-in centres for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. RelateNI and the Wave Trauma Centre provide professional help at both centres.
The PSNI also has established specialist units which are investigating all reports of institutional abuse.