Amnesty International has welcomed the news that witnesses will be able to give evidence to the Historical Abuse Inquiry into alleged abuse at Kincora Boys' Home without fear of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that the Government assurance came in a letter to Sir Anthony Hart, chairman of the Northern Ireland inquiry, which has been tasked to investigate child abuse at the east Belfast boys' home in the 1970s.
Allegations have persisted since then that a paedophile ring at Kincora was allowed to operate in order for the intelligence services to blackmail leading politicians and establishment figures.
Two former military intelligence officers, Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell, have alleged that they raised concerns about Kincora, but the security services blocked investigations into the child abuse in the 1970s. It continued until 1980.
The commitment to waive the Official Secrets Act for the purposes of investigating Kincora was first sought in a letter from Amnesty International to the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, last August.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director, said: "Amnesty International welcomes this undertaking from the UK Attorney General that the Official Secrets Act will not be used to block evidence to the inquiry from former intelligence officers.
"The allegations surrounding Kincora could scarcely be more disturbing - that MI5 turned a blind eye to child abuse and actively blocked a police investigation, instead using the paedophile ring for its own intelligence-gathering purposes.
"These assurances from government should pave the way for the former officers - otherwise bound by the Official Secrets Act - to finally speak freely to an official inquiry."
Three senior care staff at Kincora were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys, but it is feared that there were many more victims from the period 1960 to 1980.