Amnesty International has expressed concern at claims that the Catholic Church's child protection watchdog is being undermined through funding cuts.
The claims were made by the former chief executive at the National Board for Safeguarding of Children (NBSC), Ian Elliott, who retired last summer.
He said the Catholic Bishops, the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union, which together fund the board, were undermining its work by consistently cutting that funding.
He claimed he had been made to curtail further probes of dioceses, missionary organisations and religious orders by starving investigators of resources.
Mr Elliott reportedly said he could “see no justification” for this “other than a desire to limit the role of the board by covert means”. He also criticised the insistence by Church authorities that the board must be invited in to Catholic bodies to conduct investigations.
“A review process that relies solely on consent being given by the reviewee is vulnerable at any time to someone withdrawing from it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “Ideally the board should be given the authority to require access where they believe circumstances warrant it.”
Asked by The Irish Times f or a response to Mr Elliott's criticisms on funding cuts a spokesman for the NBSC said it had "no comment to make".
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International Programme Director for Northern Ireland, said: "From NSBC reports we know something of the horror of abuse suffered by children in Northern Ireland and the way the Church hierarchy permitted it. Any curtailment of its ability to protect children should be a matter of profound concern."
He continued: "But we need to be clear that this is an arm of the Catholic Church essentially investigating itself. It is not fit for the purpose of getting to the truth in this long and vile practice. It's absurd that a body looking into such a grave and widespread matter should be reliant on Church patronage for access and funding."
He said: “Church-approved reviews are absolutely no substitute for a proper, independent investigation into clerical child sex abuse throughout Northern Ireland. We know the abuse happened in Northern Ireland over many years and over many parishes - but only a proper State-instituted inquiry will tell us the extent of the abuse and help bring to account those responsible.
He said “that’s what abuse survivors want and that’s what they have got in the Republic of Ireland, why not in Northern Ireland? It is up to the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver an independent and thorough inquiry into allegations of clerical abuse so that funding and independence are not in question.”
Last May, Amnesty published a research briefing into clerical child sex abuse in Northern Ireland and launched a campaign with victims for independent and effective investigations into the alleged abuse. However, despite bringing abuse victims to meet Ministers at Stormont Castle last June and repeated follow-up letters, Amnesty has still received no commitment from the Executive to carry out any investigation. Last summer the UN's Committee Against Torture expressed regret that the Northern Ireland Executive had failed to establish an inquiry into clerical child sex abuse.
The currrent Historical Abuses Inquiry in Northern Ireland is investigating abuses that took place between 1922 and 1995.