Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Abuse probe team to visit Australia

Latest news from Northern Ireland

A public inquiry into historic institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland is to send a specialist team to Australia after almost 60 alleged victims or witnesses now living in the country made contact.

The probe has discovered that around 110 children were sent to Australia from residential facilities in Northern Ireland between 1947 and 1956 as part of a controversial UK government child migration policy. Most ended up in western Australia.

Of the 355 people to come forward to the inquiry alleging abuse in institutions such as borstals and state or church-run children's homes, 57 are from Australia - more than one in seven.

That is 10 more than the 47 people who have applied to engage with the investigation from Great Britain. There have been 224 applications from Northern Ireland and 17 from the Republic of Ireland, with five from other countries and five incomplete forms.

The surge in contact from Australia follows February's launch of a targeted outreach and awareness raising campaign in countries where many former residents were believed to have settled.

To assist the potential witnesses from the southern hemisphere in giving evidence, a team from the inquiry will fly to Australia next month.

"The Inquiry welcomes the fact that the number of applications from Northern Ireland and elsewhere has risen significantly over the past months, following extensive promotional and outreach work," said a spokeswoman for the inquiry.

"The Inquiry is very conscious of the need to make the whole process as accessible as possible to potential witnesses, wherever they may reside.

"It is for this reason that it has decided to send a team to Australia to meet the large number of applicants there.

"This will reduce the need for applicants to travel to Northern Ireland, and will help to ensure that as many potential witnesses as possible can speak in person to the Inquiry."

The statutory probe was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate institutions run by the state and church and also those owned by the private sector or voluntary bodies from 1922 to 1995.

It is being chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart.

At least 35 institutions have been identified as sites of alleged abuse. These incorporate 15 state-run children's homes, 13 institutions run by Catholic Church orders, four borstals or training schools, and three institutions run by Protestant denominations or voluntary sector organisations.

Applicants are given the option of telling their story through an acknowledgement forum or also giving evidence at a full public evidence session when hearings begin later in the year.

To date around 70% of those coming forward have opted to do both.

Experts from the acknowledgement forum have now met with 173 applicants.

The next public hearing of the inquiry will take place early next month when Sir Anthony is expected to set a deadline for applications and outline a timetable for evidence sessions.

The state inquiry was set up in the wake of a series of damning probes in the Republic of Ireland, which uncovered a shocking litany of abuse in facilities run by the Catholic Church.

The investigation north of the border, which is estimated to cost between £15 and £19 million and must report by January 2016, was formally established under law at the start of the year.

While Magdalene-style workhouses for girls and women - similar to those that operated in the Republic of Ireland - are covered by the terms of the investigation, it can only examine the claims of those who were under 18 at the time of their stay.

This has prompted calls for the inquiry's remit to be widened.

Before the launch of the promotional and outreach campaign in February, 175 people had come forward, 99% of whom were from Northern Ireland.

Survivors of childhood abuse in Northern Ireland institutions and any other potential witnesses who wish to contact the Inquiry should visit the Inquiry's website at: www.hiainquiry.org or contact the Inquiry on the following Freephone number: 0800 068 4935.

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