REPORT ON THE INQUIRY INTO HISTORICAL ABUSE
IN NORTHERN IRELAND.
(Paraphrased by Brian Mark Hennessy from an article published by BBC News on 20th January 2017).
Sir Anthony Hart, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Inquiry into Historical Abuse released his report this week. The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) studied allegations of abuse in 22 homes and other residential institutions between 1922 to 1995. He declared that children’s homes run by some churches, charities and state institutions in Northern Ireland were the scene of widespread abuse and mistreatment of young residents.
These were facilities run by the state, local authorities, the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the children’s charity Barnardo’s. However, the largest number of complaints related to four Catholic-run homes. There was also sexual abuse carried out by priests and lay people, he reported.
Sir Anthony Hart, recommended a tax-free Government-funded compensation award ranging from 7,500 up to 100,000 pounds Sterling should be paid to the Victims. In addition, he recommended a permanent memorial at Stormont and a public apology to abuse survivors. He added that 12 people who had given evidence had since died and it was only “just and humane” that their spouses or children should receive a payment of 75% of the total lump sum. Other recommendations made were the establishment of a commissioner for survivors of institutional abuse and specialist care and assistance tailored to the needs of the victims.
The HIA heard evidence from hundreds of people who spent their childhood in residential homes and institutions. A total of 493 applicants engaged with the inquiry, in one form or another, and while the majority were seen in Belfast, others were seen in the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Australia.
Setting out the findings of his report, the retired judge said the largest number of complaints received related to four Sisters of Nazareth homes. ‘Children were raised in bleak lovelessness’ in Sisters of Nazareth homes, one commentator has remarked. It found nuns had physically and emotionally abused children in their care. Sir Anthony said it was not uncommon for children to have Jeyes Fluid, a brand of disinfectant, put in their baths. Many of the incidents relating to sexual abuse were known by members of the clergy who did nothing to stop them. In a statement, the Sisters of Nazareth apologized, stating the ‘Deepest regret’ to anyone who had suffered abuse while in their care. “It was always the desire of the order to provide a safe place for children and when we failed on any occasion, we want to express our deepest regret,” the Order said. “This has been a traumatic time for those survivors and victims who have come forward, however, we sincerely hope it has also been an opportunity to find some relief.”
Sir Anthony said the inquiry had “stripped away decades of half-truths masquerading as facts, in relation to Kincora and what state agencies did or did not do regarding the abuse there. “Thirty-nine boys were abused at some point during their time at Kincora,” he said. Three men, William McGrath, Raymond Semple and Joseph Mains, who were senior “Care Staff” at Kincora, were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys. Sir Anthony said when the police became aware in 1974 of complaints against McGrath, the investigation was “inept and inadequate”. He said a proper investigation into McGrath may have meant the children who were abused after 1974 could have been spared. Nevertheless, Sir Anthony also found no evidence that security agencies were complicit in the abuse that took place at Kincora. Sir Anthony said that the boys were let down by those three individuals, who committed sexual abuse “of the gravest kind” to teenage boys in their care. He added that the majority of the young boys at Kincora between 1958 and 1980, who gave evidence, said they were not sexually abused during their time there.
The HIA inquiry found that the Norbertine Order failed to take steps to expel Fr Brendan Smyth, from the priesthood despite being aware that the Northern Ireland-born cleric had committed dozens of offences against children over a 40-year period. The Irish Norbertines said in a statement that they recognised the “tragic harm and hurt” caused to innocent children by Fr Brendan Smyth. A spokesperson for the Norbertines said they “again unreservedly apologise most sincerely for the hurt and harm caused to so many young people, while also accepting that our management of the man concerned (Smyth) and the accusations presented to us was grossly inadequate.”
The inquiry also heard from adults, who as children, were sent from Northern Ireland to live in Australia. Sir Anthony said the HIA inquiry was the first in the UK to look at the child migrant scheme and said some of those who were sent away had been abused before they (left) and others believed the scheme itself was abusive. Sir Anthony said they had been unable to establish exactly how many children were sent to Australia, but at least 138, under the age of 13, were sent and, possibly as many as 144.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, “apologised unreservedly” to all those who had suffered in church-run institutions. “I am ashamed and I am truly sorry that such abuse occurred, and that in many cases children and young people felt deprived of love and were left with a deep and lasting suffering,” he said.
Margaret McGuckin, who has been the public face of the campaign for survivors of historical institutional child sex abuse, said that the report was what they had “waited for for a lifetime. Today we are believed. As young children we tried to complain about our abuse and no one would listen,” she said.
Jon McCourt, from the Northwest Survivors group in Londonderry, said that Sir Anthony Hart had listened and that political representatives now had to listen. He stated, “In particular, the religious orders and these holy devout Christian people disbelieved us and even bullied us more for daring to complain, today we have been vindicated. We want the rest of the delivery of what the HIA report entails. Don’t let us down now.”
(Comment by Brian Mark Hennessy: Survivors of clerical abuse at the Mirfield Seminary in Yorkshire, England – (to whom this blog is dedicated) – which was an institution run by the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, will recognize chilling similarities with the contents of the above report. “Children raised in bleak lovelessness” at the Nazareth homes is one comment that struck me, an ex-Mirfield boy, for I have heard similar comments from other members of the “Comboni Survivor Group”.
Then more familiar too, was“the tragic harm and hurt” suffered by the boys in the Norbertine’s homes. It has a clear parallel with the Mirfield seminary where all forms of alleged abuse, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape, have been alleged – and whose victims have been dealing with the complex psychological effects ever since.
Moreover, there is also a striking parallel in the action taken by the Comboni Missionary Order to the response of the Norbertines, who were aware of the abuse being perpetrated against children in their care, but they did not respond in any way to the abuse that they were aware of. Similarly, following reports of sexual abuse that took place within their institutions at the Mirfield seminary, the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy, (from the local Rector, to the London Province Provincial Superior and, indeed the Superior General of the Order at the time) did nothing at all regarding making mandatory reports to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as required by Canon law. Nor did the inform the West Yorkshire Police, which they were bound to do under the Law of Misprision that was effective at the time. Nor did they offer assistance to the Victims and nor did they report the abuse to the Welfare Authorities. Indeed, in the case of the Comboni Missionary Order, three of the priests whose abuse of seminarians were known to them from reports – were simply moved on to other locations where they would also have unfettered access to children – and where, theoretically, at least, they would have been able to continue their abuse of children unchecked).