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Interim advocate for survivors of abuse Brendan McAllister is urged to step down after helping Catholic church service

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Brendan McAllister

Brendan McAllister

Brendan McAllister

Survivors of historical institutional abuse (HIA) in Northern Ireland have called for their Stormont appointed advocate to resign after he assisted in a Catholic church service on Sunday.

Brendan McAllister was appointed interim advocate for HIA by the head of the civil service in July 2019 when the Executive and the Assembly were collapsed.

Mr McAllister, who has previously said he was a candidate for ordination as a deacon in the Catholic Church in 2021, sparked outrage in some victims circles by wearing clerical dress to assist in the liturgy at St Peter's church in Warrenpoint, Co Down.

Margaret McGuckin, from the lobby group SAVIA (Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse), said his behaviour represented a "big conflict of interest" as many survivors in the group are victims of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church.

"This interim advocate does not speak for us," she said.

"We currently have no representative and continue to bear the weight of this ourselves and supporting each other.

"The behaviour of Mr McAllister is a painful insult to our people who were violated by men of the cloth as children.

"He should resign or be stood down immediately before any further damage is done."

In a statement, Mr McAllister, a former victims' commissioner, said he had been "assisting with liturgy...in a parish setting".

He added: "From the time of my appointment as interim advocate, senior officials of the Executive Office have been aware that I have been preparing for future ministry in the Catholic Church. The leaders of all five HIA victims groups have also been aware and have previously expressed their good wishes."

In May, Mr McAllister apologised after the identities of 250 survivors of historical institutional abuse were revealed in an emailing error.

A newsletter was sent without recipients' names being anonymised.

The email was signed by a staff member, but sent on behalf of Mr McAllister.

He said he took full responsibility and has referred the matter to the information commissioner.

Claire McKeegan, a solicitor acting for a number of abuse survivors, expressed concern over the current situation, and the data breach last month.

"The damage that follows is devastating on survivors' mental health," she said.

"The dreadful result is that survivors disengage from the services that they so badly need."

Jon McCourt from another victims' group, Survivors North West, defended Mr McAllister and dismissed claims of a conflict of interest.

Mr McCourt said he had "no concerns" about his role which in "no way impacts his ability to be the interim victims' commissioner".

"How he decides to further his relationship with God is his business," he told BBC's Talkback programme.

"He has been an amazing advocate," he said.

"There may be a perception of a conflict of interest from others, but Mr McAllister has not said there is.

"He has enough integrity that if he thought there was one, he would say there was."

Belfast Telegraph