The public inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland will open next January with investigations of allegations of abuse at two Catholic homes in Derry run by the Sisters of Nazareth.
Alleged abuse at a total of 13 Catholic, secular, local authority and juvenile detention institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 will be investigated by the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry, its chairman Anthony Hart announced today.
So far more than 360 people have claimed they suffered abuse at five Catholic voluntary homes, two secular homes, three juvenile detention institutions and three local authority homes.
More than 220 of the alleged victims are based in Northern Ireland while up to 50 are living in Britain. Up to 20 are from the Republic and 57 are living in Australia.
Members of the inquiry team are to travel to Australia later this year to interview some of the Australian victims. They are believed to be mainly part of a group of 112 children who were sent to Australia for adoption from Catholic institutions in Belfast and Derry between 1946 and 1956 - and also part of a group of at least 10 children sent from state institutions in the North around 1950.
At a hearing in Belfast attended by more than 100 people, many of them people who are making cases to the inquiry, Mr Hart said the inquiry, which is estimated to cost up to £19 million, is scheduled to report in January 2016.
He stressed that the closing date for more applications to the inquiry is November 29th this year. He said that only in “truly exceptional cases” could the inquiry accept any additional cases of alleged abuse after that date.
There are two key elements to the inquiry. In the first instance alleged victims can recount their experiences to an acknowledgement forum that began its work last October and has already interviewed 177 people. Up to 340 of the 363 applicants are to tell their stories to the forum.
Tom Shaw of the forum said it was designed to allow victims speak informally and for them to "gain a sense that what they experienced is being acknowledged, listened to in good faith and believed".
The second element involves the more formal statutory inquiry into the allegations of abuse. So far 276 of the 363 alleged victims have applied to give evidence to the statutory inquiry.
A number of other institutions that the inquiry had examined will not be investigated because allegations against them could not be regarded as amounting to “systemic failings”, said Mr Hart. The inquiry, however, has reserved the right to reopen these investigations “if further allegations come to light at a later stage” of the investigations, he added.
The hearing beginning in January will consider the allegations relating to St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, and Nazareth House Children's Home in Bishop Street, Derry.
The three other Catholic homes being investigated are: Nazareth House and Nazareth Lodge children's homes in Belfast and the De La Salle Boy's Home, Rubane House, in Kircubbin, Co Down.
The two secular voluntary homes are Barnardo's Sharonmore Project and Barnardo's Macedon, both in Newtownabbey on the outskirts of north Belfast.
The three local authority homes are: Kincora Boy's Home, Belfast; Lissue Children's Unit, Lisburn; and Bawnmore Children's Home, Newtownabbey.
The three juvenile justice institutions are: St Patrick's Training School, Belfast; Lisnevin Training School, Co Down; and Rathgael Training School, Bangor, Co Down.