Belfast Telegraph

Extension request in abuse probe

The chairman of Northern Ireland's public inquiry into historical institutional child abuse has requested a one-year extension to his work.

Stormont's first and deputy first ministers said Sir Anthony Hart made a persuasive and compelling case and will recommend that the Executive agrees to lengthen the investigation.

The treatment of young people, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers, in houses run by nuns, brothers or the state is a key concern of the retired High Court judge's probe which is being held in Banbridge, Co Down, and was ordered by ministers.

The panel is considering cases between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995 and open oral testimony is due to finish in a year's time.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said: "We do not underestimate the complexities of dealing with institutional abuse. We must ensure that the inquiry provides every opportunity for those impacted by the allegations of institutional abuse to be heard in an open forum.

"Sir Anthony Hart made a very persuasive and compelling case for a one year extension to the timeframe."

The panel has to decide whether children might have been physically or sexually abused or emotionally harmed through humiliation. Harm may also include simple neglect, not feeding or clothing people properly.

The inquiry has heard a litany of allegations from former residents at Londonderry homes run by Sisters of Nazareth nuns, including that children were made to eat their own vomit and bathe in disinfectant. They claimed they were beaten for bedwetting and had soiled sheets placed on their heads to humiliate them, witnesses told public hearings earlier this year.

The inquiry team is due to report to the Executive by the start of 2016.

If granted, the change would mean the report would not now be submitted to ministers until January 18 2017.

Sir Anthony said: "We make this request to extend the life of the inquiry for one year with considerable reluctance, and only do so after detailed considerations of the implications.

"However, on the basis of our experience to date, we are now in a position to calculate how many sitting days it will take to call all the witnesses who wish to give evidence from every institution, and each individual whom we will, or will probably, investigate.

"Should our request for an extension of one year be granted, we will of course continue to make every effort to complete our work in a shorter time should that be possible."

If successful, this request will require an amendment to the terms of reference of the inquiry, which will be brought before the Northern Ireland Assembly. No decision is expected before the autumn.

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