Abuse probe hopes rise after victims meet First Ministers
In a move that could finally signal a public probe into clerical child abuse in Northern Ireland, the First and Deputy First Ministers have met with a group of victims.
Campaigners — who have called for a public inquiry into the scandal after the Ryan report in the Republic ruled that mistreatment in Catholic and state-run institutions was endemic — said yesterday they were hopeful of progress following their meeting with the ministers in Stormont yesterday.
Margaret McGuckin, who was abused at a Sisters of Nazareth orphanage in Belfast from the age of three, said: “I am pleased with what went on. This is only one day, it is not us going away, it is just one day at a time but we are more hopeful than we were (yesterday) morning,” she said.
Ms McGuckin added: “There needs to be some sort of inquiry or investigation to look into this.
“It is important, then, to be believed. We've had the Church apologise, the Pope, the cardinal, the religious orders have apologised but the Government hasn't yet, and we need them to be on board now, visibly and to be seen supporting us.”
John Meehan, who suffered sexual and physical abuse while in Termonbacca home run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Londonderry, said: “For someone who never walked out the front gate of an orphanage, always walking out the back gate, for me to be here today is a big apology.”
Jon McCourt, who was also in Termonbacca, added: “I am very optimistic about what was said today and I think they have agreed they are going to supervise the other Government departments.
“I never thought I would see this day but I am hopeful. I am very encouraged as we leave the meeting that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have made the decision to take the lead on this issue.
“I am convinced that there is a genuineness in their will to see this move forward.
“They are aware of the fragility, certainly, of the older members of our society who for many years were not listened to, not believed and denied access to any form of justice. I am convinced that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are genuine in the assurances they have given us of moving this process forward to a point where certainly the victims and survivors of institutional abuse across the board, both state, Church and independent, will have their needs met and services drawn specifically to attend to the catalogue of trauma that has been suffered.”
Earlier this year the Assembly agreed to consider launching an inquiry into clerical child abuse, but no definitive moves have so far been made towards such a probe.
The PSNI has set up a specialist detective team to investigate past crimes.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the team would play its part to bring to justice those responsible but stressed there is a need for a wider response among statutory agencies to address the allegations.
Many victims are also planning a legal case against religious orders and Government bodies responsible for child welfare at the time for failing to protect them.
Analysis: Only a full investigation will bring the closure they need
The Ryan Report in the Republic told the horrific story of violence and sexual abuse suffered by a generation of some of the most vulnerable children in Ireland.
It painted a chilling picture of a Church that protected and tolerated its members' actions, and a State, charged to inspect the children's homes and schools, that failed to safeguard young victims.
The 2,600-page report took nine years to compile. It proposed 21 ways the Irish government could recognise past wrongs, including building a permanent memorial, providing counselling to victims and improving Ireland's current child protection services.
It provided some level of closure and justice for the thousands who were sent as children to Ireland's austere network of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels from the 1930s until the last Church-run facilities shut in the 1990s.
But in Northern Ireland no investigation has ever been launched and the problem here remains locked in the past.
Now that the First and Deputy First Minister have met with a delegation of victims to discuss their desire for a public inquiry into the scandal, there is hope that they may finally get some level of justice and recognition.
Stories of abuse at homes like St Patrick's Home in west Belfast, run by the De La Salle Brothers; Termonbacca in Derry and Nazareth Lodge children's home in south Belfast, run by the Sisters of Nazareth; are becoming more and more prevalent.
There is no longer any doubt that vulnerable children were subjected to horrifying violence and abuse while in the care of church and state-run homes and schools in Northern Ireland.
A full probe into the level of abuse is necessary. The issue is not going to go away until there is formal recognition of the extent of the abuse and a public apology from the religious orders and the Government institutions that failed vulnerable children for decades. Victims deserve nothing less.