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Bishop apologises and hopes child abuse inquiry findings will help others

By Michael McHugh and Noel McAdam

A Catholic bishop has said the recommendations of Northern Ireland's child abuse inquiry should be implemented with goodwill.

Noel Treanor hopes the report will help others who have been abused to find the strength and courage to come forward and report it to the authorities.

The independent probe recommended compensation payments of up to £100,000 to the victims, to be funded by the state and voluntary institutions responsible for the residential homes where the harm occurred, with payments beginning later this year.

Those who suffered in State, church and charity-run homes should also be offered an official apology from government and the organisations involved, the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry led by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart found.

Bishop Treanor said: "Let us pray that in response to the HIA inquiry and report, our local church in this diocese and all involved in the statutory and voluntary sectors will have the grace and strength to respond with honesty, integrity and goodwill to the report's recommendations and their implementation, so that the light of justice, truth and peace may shine upon us and facilitate in our society the cultivation of a civilisation of love, courtesy and care for all."

Bishop Treanor represents Down and Connor, a diocese covering the greater Belfast area.

He told the congregation at St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast the report raised many important safeguarding issues, and the diocese should carefully examine its findings and co-operate in implementing the recommendations.

He apologised to the survivors and paid tribute to those who came forward to the inquiry.

"We can barely imagine the pain and suffering involved in their efforts to revisit and describe in words a dark, disappointing, lonely and infernal time in their lives in order to give their evidence."

The report found evidence of systemic failings in most of the 22 institutions and homes it investigated, and said sex crimes against children were ignored to protect the good name of the Catholic Church. One child who complained was effectively silenced.

With Assembly elections to be held on March 2, followed by talks to try to establish a new power-sharing administration at Stormont, there is, however, uncertainty over when the document's findings will be implemented.

Meanwhile, the Executive's response to the official report on the historical institutional abuse of hundreds of children has been called into question by opposition parties.

The Ulster Unionists and Alliance are asking who had the authority to issue a statement, given that both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister posts lie vacant.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who chairs the Assembly committee which monitors the Executive Office, said: "It would be entirely wrong if anyone in the Executive Office issued a statement trying to create an impression other than the reality, which is that the report belongs to an Executive Department that is, to the intents and purposes of the victims, closed until further notice."

The Executive Office statement said it intended to put the report to ministers "at the earliest opportunity".

And it added that the Office "remains sensitive to the needs of all those who have suffered abuse and is mindful of the destructive impact it has had on many people".

"The response raises a very serious question," Mr Nesbitt told the Belfast Telegraph. "Who has the authority to make such a statement?"

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said he intended to raise how the statement was issued with senior officials in the week ahead.

The Assembly will today debate the fall-out from the report.

Meanwhile, Mr Nesbitt's committee backed him in writing to the Head of the Civil Service, Dr Malcolm McKibben, asking him to explore if it would be possible to pass on the authority of the Executive Office to either the Justice Minister Claire Sugden or Communities Minister Paul Givan, who are among those who remain in post. "At least they could start to action the report's recommendations," he said.

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