13 Nov 2010

Northern Ireland gov't resists calls for inquiry into hundreds of child abuse cases in church & state institutions

The Irish Times - November 30, 2009

More than 1,000 people could be victims of child abuse in North, solicitor claims

by DAN KEENAN | Northern News Editor

NORTHERN IRELAND: THE NUMBERS affected by institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland could be in excess of 1,000, it has been estimated.

Joe Rice, a solicitor seeking compensation for those claiming they were abused as children in church and state institutions, told The Irish Times that the response to calls for an inquiry north of the Border by the Stormont Executive to date was “disappointing and frustrating”.

Last month Mr Rice wrote to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and to Northern secretary Shaun Woodward seeking an inquiry along the lines of those in the Republic.

The written responses from Stormont Ministers, which have been seen by The Irish Times, were “broadly favourable,” Mr Rice said yesterday. But he said it was particularly disappointing that, a few days later, he received a letter from Mr Woodward saying no request for an inquiry had been received by him from the Executive.

Mr Rice is forming a steering group along with solicitors representing many more survivors of institutional child abuse across Northern Ireland.

He said they were pressing for a recognition by the state of its failure to protect hundreds, possibly thousands of victims.

“The minimal approach at this stage deserves a full government apology similar to the apology given to the victims in the Republic by the taoiseach Bertie Ahern in May 1999 and analogous to the apology given by the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd a few days ago to victims in similar circumstances broadly speaking in Australia,” he said.

The survivors also want to see an inquiry and serious consideration given to compensating victims in Northern Ireland.

“So far there is no sign of any compensation, no sign of any redress board and in many ways the Executive are lagging miles behind their Dublin counterparts. There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm emanating from the Executive to deal efficiently, swiftly and completely,” [with the situation], he added. Mr Rice said Ministers had to realise the scale of abuse in the North meant the problem was much wider than one of clerical abuse.

“The government had an overarching duty of care to these young children, many of whom were sent to orphanages, to institutions by the courts in Northern Ireland into the care of the state. But so far the government here have failed to realistically meet their responsibilities.”

The Stormont institutions “seemed to be passing the buck back to the religious orders”.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, the Minister with direct responsibility on the issue, has written to Mr Rice asking for assistance in assessing the numbers of people involved in abuse.

Mr Rice said he was being instructed by his clients to liaise with other solicitors to try to aggregate the numbers involved.

“You would imagine that the Executive with all the facilities at its disposal could have arrived at a figure, but we will do our best through our steering group.”

He concluded: “I said months ago that the figure was probably in the hundreds, I would now revisit that figure and it is now likely to be in the thousands.”

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