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Statutory powers for sex abuse inquiry

By Noel McAdam

An inquiry into decades of alleged child sex abuse at Catholic and State-run homes in Northern Ireland is to have statutory powers, it has been announced.

However, new legislation at Stormont allowing the probe to compel witnesses to appear could take another two years.

In the interim an investigation is to get under way and victims and survivors will be urged to come forward to a special forum to recount their experiences.

Asked when the initial phase of the inquiry might get under way, First Minister Peter Robinson and his Deputy John O'Dowd said: "As soon as possible."

Junior ministers Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson, who held a "very emotional" meeting with support groups yesterday, said they had given a "positive and constructive" response to the initiative.

John McCourt, of the Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse group, said: "This was a victory for the survivors of abuse."

Veteran campaigner Margaret McGuckin said: "They have listened to us. This is a proper investigation that will help all victims."

Mr Robinson said: "It could take up to two years before the legislation is complete but this will not delay the investigation's work.

"Institutional abuse should never have happened and we deeply regret that it did," he said.

Mr O'Dowd said those responsible for the institutions had failed to act responsibly when children were in their care.

"For victims, their issues are as real today as when they first occurred," he added.

Any information on potential abusers who may still pose a threat to children will immediately be passed to special units of the PSNI and social services.

The Executive's decision - taken at a single-issue session yesterday - comes after similar inquiries in the Irish Republic which revealed evidence of widespread abuse by Catholic clergy and attempts to cover up the scandal.

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