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Child abuse inquiry 'will recommend compensation for victims'

Published 04/11/2015

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the inquiry
Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the inquiry

An inquiry into historical institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland will recommend that victims are paid compensation for the trauma they endured, its chairman has said.

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading what is one of the UK's largest inquiries into physical, sexual and emotional harm to children at homes run by the church, state and voluntary organisations.

The inquiry was formally established in January 2013 by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate child abuse which occurred in residential institutions over a 73-year period from 1922 to 1995.

While the inquiry's investigative work is not scheduled to finish until next summer, with a report due to be submitted to Stormont ministers the following year, Sir Anthony said he was already in a position to recommend compensation.

"Because our investigations are not complete we are not yet in a position to say what our findings of systemic failings will be, or what all our recommendations will be," he said.

"However, what we can now say is that from the evidence we have heard so far we will recommend that there should be a scheme to award financial compensation to those children who suffered abuse in children's homes and other institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995."

Sir Anthony also announced the names of a further six institutions to be investigated by the inquiry, bringing the total number to 22.

The additional institutions are: Manor House (a children's home near Lisburn); Millisle Borstal; St Joseph's Training School for Girls (at Middletown, Co Armagh); and three Good Shepherd convents at Londonderry, Belfast and Newry.

The inquiry has already held 157 days of oral hearings in Banbridge Courthouse.

The chairman said that in drawing up the list of the six additional institutions his team had considered information in respect of 54 homes and institutions about which at least one person had made an allegation.

He said that to hold hearings into all those 54 facilities could take a further two years and cost around £8 million but would not significantly add to the inquiry's understanding of the nature and extent of systemic failings.

But he added: "Any recommendations that we make for any form of redress, including compensation, will apply to any person who was abused within a children's home or other institution within our terms of reference, whether or not that home or institution was investigated by the inquiry."

Sir Anthony said the inquiry would be conducting a targeted consultation with abuse victims to gather further views and suggestions on redress.

The consultation period will run until Friday January 8 2016.

Sir Anthony emphasised that the final decision on whether compensation would be paid did not rest with the inquiry.

"Although our terms of reference provide that the inquiry will make recommendations and findings on a number of matters, the final decision as to whether there should be any form of redress, and what form it may take, are matters for the Northern Ireland Executive to decide," he said.

Victims campaigners have called for interim compensation payments to be offered before the inquiry is completed, highlighting the age of many of those who suffered abuse.

Stormont's Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister has not commented on the call for interim pay-outs.

Margaret McGuckin, spokeswoman for the Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse charity, welcomed the compensation recommendation.

"I am over the moon, many of us are, but sadly too many people did not get to see this day.

"Compensation needs to be fast-tracked. We are having meetings with the church, we need all the church figures to be spearheading this."

With regard to Sir Anthony's statement, an OFMDFM spokesman said: "We are aware of the statement today from Sir Anthony Hart, chairman of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, in which he identified six further and final institutions to be investigated by the Inquiry.

"The inclusion of additional institutions will not cause any delay to the timeframe for the publication of the Inquiry's report and recommendations in January 2017. The Inquiry will also be undertaking a targeted consultation into the issue of redress between 4 November 2015 and 8 January 2016."

The current inquiry only covers abuse inside institutions and against victims who were under the age of 18 at the time.

The OFMDFM spokesman added: "Ministers remain sensitive to the views of those who have suffered abuse who fall outside the scope of the Inquiry and are mindful of the equally destructive impact it has had on many people.

"Officials have completed a scoping exercise in relation to mother and baby home/ Magdalene asylums (laundries) and clerical abuse which ministers are giving careful consideration."

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