Clerical abuse: the case for new inquiries

By overcoming their differences, the two main parties at Stormont would be acting in the interests of some of the most wounded people they represent

Former president Mary McAleese addressing the Voices of Faith conference in Rome last week. Photograph: Patsy McGarry

Former president Mary McAleese addressing the Voices of Faith conference in Rome last week. Photograph: Patsy McGarry

 

In his speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the impasse in Northern Ireland as “corrosive and damaging”. It meant “there is no effective political engagement on issues of relevance to the lives of the people of Northern Ireland”, he said.

Probably no group is more affected by this impasse than people who were physically and sexually abused in residential institutions for children run by the state, churches, or Barnardos in Northern Ireland. Their suffering was illustrated graphically by Sir Anthony Hart and his team in their 2,300 -page Historical Abuse Inquiry report, published in January last year.

None of the report’s recommendations, including for compensation, can be implemented until a new Executive is formed at Stormont. Meanwhile, survivors feel this ongoing delay compounds the injustice they suffered as children and which shaped their difficult lives. Their fate seems to have little influence on the DUP or Sinn Féin. This week it emerged that Northern Secretary Karen Bradley said calls for inquiries into Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland, as well as into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in Dromore diocese, could not be acted on either until a new Executive was in place.

The case for these new inquiries is well made. In particular, stories of sexual and physical abuse by Fr Malachy Finnegan, former president at one of Northern Ireland’s leading Catholic schools, St Colman’s in Newry, now cover a 40-year period. They make a statutory investigation of the diocese imperative.

A BBC Spotlight programme, broadcast last month, led to a stream of further revelations of sexual and physical abuse by this priest and indirectly to the resignation of Bishop John McAreavey. He, however, remains Bishop of Dromore until his resignation is accepted by Pope Francis.

All of this intensified following an emotional intervention by former president Mary McAleese on RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme on Monday, when she described her own and her family’s reaction to recent revelations of brutal physical abuse by Fr Finnegan of her youngest brother Clement while he was a pupil at St Colman’s in the 1980s.

Ten priests in the small diocese of Dromore have faced child sexual abuse allegations since 1975, though none has been convicted in the courts. Dromore and the diocese of Down and Connor are the only two Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland wholly within Northern Ireland. A statutory investigation there can be ordered only by an Executive in Belfast. By overcoming their differences, the two main parties at Stormont would be acting in the interests of some of the most wounded people they represent.

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