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Parties fear lack of action on historical abuse as HIA inquiry findings published

By Claire McNeilly

Stormont's opposition parties are pressing for an immediate Assembly debate on the ramifications of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry.

Inquiry chair Sir Anthony Hart's report was formally published in Belfast today, following 223 days of hearings at Banbridge courthouse spanning over two-and-a-half years.

During the course of the public evidence sessions the inquiry, which had a remit to investigate physical, emotional and sexual childhood abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland's residential institutions over eight decades, heard from 527 witnesses.

Campaigner and chair of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA), Margaret McGuicken, said she met DUP leader Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday and received assurances over the report's findings.

In the run-up to the report's publication, meanwhile, the UUP, SDLP, Alliance, Green Party, People Before Profit and TUV requested the Speaker allow the Assembly to discuss its findings and recommendations before dissolution.

The opposition parties have expressed their collective anger that the report will not lead to action due to the current political impasse and upcoming election.

"The fortitude and the dignity displayed by victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse as many relived the most harrowing human experiences has been immense," said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

"Their unyielding strength must be matched ounce for ounce by a commitment from all parties to faithfully address their needs, not least of all the urgent need for financial redress for those who've suffered so much."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt added: "Of all the people who will suffer because of this current political impasse, victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse are at the forefront.

"To prolong the wait for redress for those who suffered would be unforgivable. The publication of the report will have been a day survivors have waited decades for.

"Yet they find themselves plunged into further uncertainty without an Executive in place to action the recommendations."

Amnesty International, meanwhile, said they will be shocked if Judge Hart's report finds anything less than "castastrophic and systematic failure" by the State and religious organisations, having investigated 22 homes or institutions, as well as child migration from Northern Ireland to Australia and the serial child abuser Fr Brendan Smyth.

The campaigning group's Northern Ireland programme director, Patrick Corrigan, said the HIA Inquiry will be judged on whether it delivers truth and justice for victims.

"Having sat through some of the inquiry's hearings, I will be shocked if it finds anything less than catastrophic and systemic failure by the State, and by the religious bodies and others who ran homes, in upholding their duty of care to the children for whom they were acting in loco parentis," said Mr Corrigan.

"Not only will victims deserve full and wholehearted apologies from government and from the Church authorities and others who were responsible for running homes where children were abused, but also reparation, including financial compensation, to which they have a right."

He added: "While the inquiry's terms of reference do not permit it to establish individual culpability for abuse perpetrated against children, victims will rightly expect that any evidence uncovered by the inquiry which points to potential criminal wrongdoing will be passed to the police for investigation, with a view to possible prosecution."

The inquiry's public hearings, dealing with the period 1922 to 1995 opened on January 13, 2014 and concluded on July 8, 2016.

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