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Justice devolution ‘could deliver cross-border inquiry into child abuse’

The devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont could help deliver a cross-border inquiry into child sex abuse in Ireland, it has been claimed.

As MLAs debated the political structures, and budget of more than £1bn, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said the powers could be used to tackle child abuse.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is considering appeals for an inquiry into the mistreatment of children in care homes overseen by the state and by clergy in Northern Ireland.

Mr McDevitt's comments came as Cardinal Sean Brady, faces criticism for failing to alert police to child abuse cases he knew of in 1975 as part of an internal church investigation into paedophile Father Brendan Smyth.

Dr Brady and other bishops face a string of revelations that child abuse victims were sworn to silence, while police were not informed of the sex crimes.

Mr McDevitt said politicians debating legislation and budgets have a chance to transform that into action that could change lives” said the South Belfast MLA.

“And for those people who fell under the dark shadow of clerics — ordinary boys and girls, children living in perfectly normal homes but who found themselves abused, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally by some tiny minority of clerics in this region. We will need to put in place a process which is capable of transcending the border. This budget allows us to do that. It will allow us to be able to explore, diocese by diocese, what went wrong, and how we are going to right these wrongs.

“So these millions, these billions, they are not just numbers on a blue page. They are genuinely the last bastion of hope for some people on this island. They are the opportunity for police services, social services, for prime ministers, first ministers and deputy first ministers to work together in a way that they have never worked before.

“And when I see the Executive debate in the months and weeks ahead how to respond to the crisis that envelopes us all, I hope that the evidence of progress is on the page in front of us. I hope that the first steps towards real justice, towards truth, towards a new beginning, and towards the respect of children start here.”

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