Belfast Telegraph

Department of Health disputes Amnesty 'shambolic' claim over Stormont abuse probe

Campaigners protest outside the former Good Shepherd mother and baby home on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.
Campaigners protest outside the former Good Shepherd mother and baby home on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.

The Department of Health (DoH) has rejected claims from Amnesty International that a Stormont probe into clerical abuse and mother and baby homes is "shambolic".

The investigation was launched by the Executive Office and the DoH in February 2016. Norah Gibbons stepped down as chair in March last year due to ill health.

Amnesty International said that a series of Freedom of Information requests have exposed failings with the investigation.

Complaints included the group having never met with victims, not holding a meeting since last January, being without a chairperson for almost a year, and not commissioning any research into clerical abuse.

However, a DoH spokesperson rejected the criticism, but accepted that progress had been "slower than it would have liked".

The spokesperson said that the investigation had been delayed by the resignation of Mrs Gibbons as Chair of the interdepartmental working group.

Research into the operation of historic mother and baby homes is currently being conducted by Queen's University Belfast and the University of Ulster.

"With the agreement of the working group, a key element of the research is accessing the accounts of those with experience of mother and baby homes," the spokesperson said.

"Both universities have engaged in awareness-raising through the local media to encourage individuals to come forward to inform the research.

"The Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health has also written to known custodians of historic records to ask for their full cooperation with the research. In the main, this has been met with a very positive response."

The spokesperson said that a meeting between the interdepartmental working group and a group representing mothers and babies who were former residents of the homes had to be cancelled due to the resignation of the independent chair and that further meetings were declined by the group.

However, meetings have taken place with political representatives acting on the residents behalf. Representatives have also met with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health Richard Pengelly.

The spokesperson said that interviews to appoint a new independent chair would take place "imminently" and that the process was difficult to undertake in the absence of a Stormont Assembly.

It was only after new legislative powers were handed to civil servants by Secretary of State Karen Bradley that the appointment process could begin.

The DoH spokesperson rejected claims that a report could be delayed and said it was due in June 2019.

"The report will be presented to and considered by the interdepartmental working group and will inform future recommendations to Ministers."

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