NI abuse inquiry creates 'hierarchy of victims'
A Stormont inquiry into institutional child abuse has created a hierarchy of victims, it has been claimed in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
TUV leader Jim Allister yesterday described a decision not to widen the scope of the investigation to include victims of clerical abuse as a missed opportunity.
“Right as it is that we certainly address the issue of institutional abuse, I think it is unfortunate that in the addressing of it, we create a hierarchy of abuse victims: those abused within institutions and those abused outside institutions who were predominantly the object of clerical abuse. That issue cannot be forgotten about or swept aside,” said the North Antrim MLA.
“The reality of this Bill is that it does forget about them. This was an opportunity to address all abuse, including clerical abuse, and I very much regret that has not been taken.”
The Assembly was debating the details of the legislation to determine the remit of the inquiry, which was announced in December 2010.
Former High Court Judge Sir Anthony Hart has been appointed to head the panel that will examine whether there were systemic failings by care homes, children’s homes, borstals or the state in their duties towards children.
Initially, the inquiry was to look at cases between 1945 and 1995. But MLAs have agreed to extend it back to 1922. It comes after the Ryan report uncovered decades of endemic abuse in some religious institutions in the Republic
DUP junior minister Jonathan Bell described the inquiry Bill as among the most significant pieces of legislation to pass through the Assembly.
“I salute the victims of abuse. It is their courage, their dignity, their tenacity, the triumph of their human spirit in the face of suffering that none of us can ever fully understand that has brought us to the place that we are in today. It is a truly historic day,” he said.
He added that it was his belief the inquiry had enough scope to guard against future abuse and that the issue of clerical abuse would be dealt with at a later stage.
“These children didn’t have mums or dads or stepmums or stepdads or other forms of care-givers to go back to,” he said.
“These were people who were abused and hurt in the most horrible ways by the people who were entrusted to care for them.
“That is why we have defined residential abuse – because these were the children who had nobody else to go back to . . . victims of those who shamefully should have been there to protect them.”
Reacting to the Assembly debate, Michael Connolly, who was a victim of child sex abuse by a priest in Co Fermanagh from 1968 to 1974, said he and other victims of clerical abuse felt ignored by the Northern Ireland Executive.
“The inquiry into institutional child abuse is welcome. But this does nothing for me and the hundreds of other victims of clerical abuse who were molested in churches, church halls, private homes and other locations outside children’s institutions.
“Our abuse was no less and our call for justice is no less deserving of being heard, yet clerical abuse victims in Northern Ireland are being deliberately excluded from any inquiry.
“If the Northern Ireland Executive is committed to excluding clerical abuse victims from this inquiry, then they must now make a public commitment to establishing a separate inquiry into clerical sex abuse of children in this jurisdiction.
“It is clear that not only did the church fail to protect children, but so did the state, which turned a blind eye to widespread and systemic child abuse over many decades. Only a proper public inquiry can establish the facts and ensure that this can never happen again.” – (PA)