300 victims of child homes horror to tell their story as abuse inquiry finally opens
A £19m Government investigation on the abuse of children over a 73-year period in Northern Ireland residential institutions is under way.
More than 300 men and women will give evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) on the physical and sexual abuse and neglect they suffered from those who should have cared for them.
The witnesses, now middle-aged and older, will tell their harrowing stories at the inquiry, which will be held in Banbridge Courthouse, Co Down.
At the end of the 18 months of evidence, involving at least 14 individual institutions, the inquiry will determine whether there were "systemic failings" in preventing such abuse.
The inquiry will investigate historical institutional abuse – if there were systemic failings by institutions or the State "in the duties towards those children in their care between years of 1922-1995". Abuse will include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as neglect.
Coming from all over Northern Ireland, the Republic, Britain and Australia, the witnesses – many of whom will only be identified by a code to protect their anonymity – may finally get recognition of the wrong that was done to them after the inquiry reports to the Executive early in 2016.
All the witnesses spent time in residential care of the various institutions.
While some were concerned with juvenile justice, many of the institutions existed to protect and look after the most vulnerable children in our community at that time.
The first witnesses to give evidence, from January 29, will speak of their experiences at two homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth – St Joseph's Termonbacca and Nazareth House Children's Home, Bishop Street, Londonderry.
However, today's proceedings start with a short introduction from the inquiry chair, Sir Anthony Hart, followed by the beginning of the opening comments from the inquiry's counsel, Christine Smith QC.
A media briefing into this major inquiry placed the anticipated cost at between £15m and £19m.
But the actual costs could end up being higher as "the full scale of the matters which will be investigated... is not yet known". Several prominent, and in some cases infamous, institutions such as Kincora Boys' Home, Ballyhackamore, in east Belfast, will be probed.
Complaints of habitual sexual abuse of young boys by three senior members of staff at Kincora rocked Northern Ireland in the early 1980s.
Two Barnardo's children's homes and three Nazareth Lodge homes in Derry and Belfast are also included in the wide-ranging inquiry.
By December 18 last year, 263 individuals had met with the acknowledgement forum – inquiry staff members who handle the initial witness complaints – and 427 applications had been received.
Over half of the applications came from people living in Northern Ireland today.
Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony – a retired High Court judge with extensive experience of major criminal trials – will be supported by inquiry secretary, the top civil servant Andrew Browne.
Mr Browne is an experienced former secretary to the Human Organs Inquiry.
September 29, 2011: Northern Ireland Executive established the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
May 31, 2012: Structures, terms of reference and key personnel were announced.
October 18, 2012: Terms of reference amended.
January 19, 2013: The Inquiry into Historical Abuse Act (NI) became law.
January 13, 2014: Opens.
Mid-summer 2015: Completion of inquiry.
January 18, 2016: Target date for report to be presented.