Northern Ireland ministers to deliver apology to victims of institutional abuse

Ministers from each of the North’s five main parties will jointly deliver a public apology

Ministers from each of the North’s five main parties have confirmed they will jointly deliver a public apology to the victims of historical institutional abuse on March 11th.

The apology, which was due to be delivered by the First and Deputy First Minister, was thrown into doubt by the resignation of Paul Givan as First Minister earlier this month as part of the DUP's protest against the Northern Ireland protocol.

Under Stormont rules Mr Givan's resignation meant the Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, also ceased to hold office and the Northern Executive cannot function.

The ministers – Michelle McIlveen of the DUP, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy, Nichola Mallon of SDLP, Robin Swann from the UUP and Alliance's Naomi Long – confirmed in a joint statement on Thursday that they would instead make the apology on behalf of government.

It followed engagement with victims’ and survivors’ groups and talks between the parties.

The ministers will deliver the apology in the Assembly chamber, and it will be followed by apologies from each of the institutions where “systemic failings” were found following the Hart inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

The inquiry investigated five local authority homes, five juvenile justice institutions, two secular voluntary homes, nine Catholic homes and one Church of Ireland home. The report by Mr Justice Hart, published in 2017, found evidence of abuse at all 22.

Minute’s silence

A minute’s silence will also be held in memory of the victims of historical institutional abuse who died awaiting an apology.

In their joint statement, the ministers said March 11th would be a “hugely significant day.

“Victims and survivors have waited too long to hear an apology for the awful harm that was inflicted on them as children, and in the years since.

“We want this apology to provide full acknowledgment of the wrong that was done, and the terrible failures that resulted in the abuse of children by the individuals and a system that should have protected them,” they said.

Margaret McGuckin, of victims’ group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), welcomed the confirmation the apology would go ahead but said it had only come after constant lobbying by victims.

“We’ve had to march upon Stormont year on year, begging with ministers to get it done,” she said. “Many HIA [historical and institutional abuse] victims only wanted someone to say ‘I’m sorry, it was not your fault. We let you down, we failed in our duty of care. We now want to apologise to you’.”

She said victims of abuse like her own brother needed to hear those words and “maybe that would take a little of the shame, pain and blame from his shoulders and place it on those who carried out these vile atrocities on an innocent child, and the religious orders and the state who allowed it to happen on their watch, unchallenged.”

Additional reporting - PA.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

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