An anti-abuse campaigner today said she believes justice is finally within her reach as she handed over a petition to the Assembly calling for a full inquiry into the torment suffered by hundreds of children in Catholic and state institutions here.
Presenting the petition at Stormont, Margaret McGuckin — who suffered eight years of physical abuse at Nazareth House girls’ home in Belfast — vowed not to give up her fight until a full and open investigation into child abuse at the hands of nuns and priests in industrial schools and orphanages is launched.
The petition, signed by 6,000 people, was received as politicians prepared to debate the demands for an independent commission similar to the panel which produced the Ryan report in the Republic.
“We will not back down until an inquiry is commissioned into the extent of child abuse here in Northern Ireland,” said Miss McGuckin.
“This is a very important step forward for us. We feel that our voices are finally being heard.
“I finally feel as if I am in control, after years of feeling that I was the one in the wrong.
“Getting an inquiry into the extent of child abuse in Northern Ireland is very important for all the thousands who suffered.
“Why should the victims here be forgotten about? “We want recognition of what we went through.
“My whole life at Nazareth Lodge was lived in fear — fear of the next beating, the next humiliation. Now I understand what happened was not my fault and I can be optimistic about my future. We are moving forward to receiving some kind of justice.”
The SDLP today proposed a motion that included calling on the Assembly to “commission an assessment of the extent of abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland”.
The party’s south Belfast MLA Carmel Hanna said the May 2009 Ryan Report is “a watershed, a seminal moment in Irish history”.
Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that abuse victims across Northern Ireland are to launch a landmark legal case against several religious orders. Solicitor Joe Rice, who is acting on behalf of a group of victims, said they suffered sexual and physical abuse in cases dating back to the 1940s. He has written to First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, as well as Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, detailing the demand for an inquiry.
The Ryan Report into child abuse at institutions run by Catholic orders in the Republic found that sexual, physical and emotional abuse was “endemic.”
The nine-year investigation found that Catholic priests and nuns for decades terrorised thousands of boys and girls while government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rape and humiliation.