Northern Ireland news

Calls for Interim Victims Advocate to resign over participation in Catholic Church service

Brendan McAllister was already facing calls to step down following a data breach last month. Picture by PA Photo

SURVIVORS of clerical abuse have called for the resignation of the interim advocate (IA) appointed to represent their interests after he was pictured assisting with a Catholic church service in full vestments.

Brendan McAllister was already facing calls to step down following a data breach last month which saw identities of 250 survivors of historical institutional abuse revealed in an emailing error.

The broadcast of the service from St Peter's church in Warrenpoint, Co Down on Sunday has reignited demands for him to leave the post.

Mr McAllister said he is "a candidate for ordination as a deacon in the Catholic Church in 2021" and insisted that he had been open about his plans.

He said part of the "four-year formation process" is "assisting with liturgy and pastoral activities in a parish setting".

"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."

Victims group Savia said they "were assured by the head of the civil service and his officials that the interim advocate would not be taking up any part of his ministry as a deacon until after his role as IA had ended" and "were also told that David Sterling wasn't aware of his vocation at the time of his appointment".

Campaigner Margaret McGuckin said he "does not speak for us. We currently have no representative and continue to bear the weight of this ourselves and supporting each other".

Members expressed distress on social media, Annie Murphy describing it as "a dagger to the heart of us all that he performed his Church duties live on the net in full public view".

Human rights solicitor Claire McKeegan also challenged his position saying it was a "shocking insult to survivors of institutional and clerical abuse".

Jon McCourt from victim's group, Survivors North West denied it was a conflict of interest, telling BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback he it 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 has been an amazing advocate."

DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots described Mr McAllister as "an honourable man doing his best to help vulnerable people and is being hounded for no good reason".

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