The Northern Ireland inquiry into historical institutional abuse in the coming weeks will hear "shocking" evidence of alleged abuse against children who were transported to Australia, the inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart said today.
In the next three weeks the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry will hear, mostly by video-link, evidence from 50 individuals who are now resident in Australia and were former residents of institutions in Northern Ireland.
Sir Anthony Hart at Banbridge court house today recounted how the 50 men and women were part of a group of approximately 130 children who were sent to Australia as part of a child migration programme between 1922 and 1995.
The inquiry is investigating allegations of child abuse in institutions run by the Catholic Church and Northern Ireland state from 1922 to 1995. This includes allegations by those who were part of the migration scheme.
Sir Anthony Hart explained that the inquiry could not investigate any allegations of abuse in Australia that the witnesses will make in the coming weeks, as the inquiry’s term of reference relates solely to institutions in Northern Ireland. However, this information would not be “swept under the carpet” and the authorities in Australia would be notified of any allegations, he said.
“In their witness statements many of those who will give evidence describe their experiences after they arrived in Australia in shocking terms, setting out in graphic detail their descriptions of the severe hardships, and grave sexual and physical violence, to which they say they were subjected as children in the institutions to which they were sent in Australia,” said Sir Anthony.
"However, I have to emphasise that this Inquiry is limited to what happened to children in institutions in Northern Ireland. By the Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly under which we operate, and our terms of reference, this inquiry does not have the power to investigate what happened to those child migrants in those Australian institutions," he explained.
“That does not mean that their accounts of their experiences in Australia will be swept under the carpet. I want to assure them that will not be the case. Their evidence will be given in public, either in person or through their statements, and all of the evidence will be published on our inquiry website,” added Sir Anthony.
“At the conclusion of this module arrangements will be made to furnish these statements to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which is presently carrying on its work in Australia,” he said.
“That will ensure that these matters are drawn to its attention, and I urge any of the applicants to this inquiry, and indeed anyone who has had a similar experience who may be following the work of this Inquiry, to contact the Royal Commission in Australia if they have not already done so.”
Sir Anthony said three weeks has been set aside for this module of the inquiry dealing with children sent to Australia. “We expect that all but three of the witnesses who give evidence will do so by live-link from Australia, while others who have made statements will have those statements read out to the inquiry.”
The Historical Abuse Inquiry is investigating alleged abuse of children in 13 institutions.