Friday 11 March 2022 will now be marked in Northern Irish history as the day that an official apology was finally delivered from Stormont (the Northern Ireland Executive) to victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. The apology was recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse (“HIA”) Inquiry when it was published in 2017, which at the time was the UK’s biggest child abuse public inquiry.
The inquiry was formally set up by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers in 2012, and chaired by retired High Court Judge Sir Anthony Hart. Its aim was to identify “systemic failings by institutions or the state in their duties towards those children in their care”.
During the course of the inquiry, allegations of abuse in respect of 22 homes and other residential institutions between 1922 and 1995 were considered, including those run by the state, local authorities, churches and the children’s charity Barnardos. It considered evidence of alleged sexual abuse, physical and emotional suffering, as well as issues of neglect. Throughout the inquiry, 246 individuals gave evidence in person. A further 87 statements were read into the record, with some participants too unwell to attend the hearings. The inquiry heard allegations that abuse was carried out by institution staff members, visitors and even fellow residents.
The report concluded there was widespread abuse and mistreatment of young residents and that hundreds of children were abused at institutions investigated over seven decades. The following recommendations were made:
There was a significant delay from the publication of the report in January 2017 to the apology being provided. The length of delay was particularly noteworthy as Sir Anthony died during this time along with 12 people who had assisted the inquiry with evidence. The main reason for the delay was that the report was published four days after the Stormont government collapsed. The inquiry and the report on its findings had been set up by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers and it wasn’t until January 2020 that the devolved government was re-established.
In January 2022, the date for the official apology was set for 11 March 2022. This was to be given by the First and Deputy First Minister, but was put into jeopardy again when Paul Givan resigned as First Minister in February 2022. Following his resignation and given that it was considered this apology had been a long time coming, the five main parties agreed that representatives from each party would deliver a statement.
This was followed by official apologies from representatives from the six institutions where abuse took place, those being: De La Salle Brothers, Sisters of Nazareth, Sisters of St Louis, Good Shepherd Sisters, Irish Church Missions and Barnardos.
Now that the overdue apology has finally been provided it has resulted in criticism as to why it took so long in the first place with many believing that it was decades overdue and that the apologies provided by the institutions were not sincere and had instead been forced upon them.
As far as implementing the recommendations from the report, the next logical step appears to be the issue of compensation. Work is already well underway in this respect with the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board being set up to receive and process compensation. The application process will stay open for a period of five years from 3 April 2020, so there are just over three years remaining. The parameters of the scheme are as follows:
The scheme also allows a person to apply on behalf of someone who died on or after 28 April 1953 if they are the deceased person’s surviving spouse/civil partner/ cohabiting partner/child.
In respect of the other recommendations made by Sir Anthony, there has been no decision made on the establishment of a permanent memorial to those who suffered from institutional abuse.
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