Northern Ireland news

Muckamore abuse inquiry: What happens next?

Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim. Picture by Mark Marlow
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT officials will need to undertake some preparatory work before a public inquiry into the Muckamore Abbey abuse scandal can begin.

First to be established are the terms of reference, which will set the parameters for what the inquiry will investigate about the Co Antrim hospital.

Health minister Robin Swann told the assembly that families and patients, both current and former, will get the opportunity to influence these terms.

The public inquiry will be held under the Inquiries Act 2005, Mr Swann confirmed to MLAs.

Such probes tend to be led by a current or former judge, although the inquiry could also employ a panel of experts. The Muckamore inquiry, for instance, could decide to include a panellist who is an expert on learning disabilities.

It will take some time for officials to identify suitable candidates and for a decision to be made on who should lead the probe.

The inquiry will have to be carefully managed to avoid disrupting or prejudicing the continuing police investigation into allegations of abuse at Muckamore.

It is possible some elements of the inquiry could operate in parallel with the police probe without concern, such as public sessions simply establishing the history of the hospital.

However, the more significant public hearings may have to give way to the police investigation and any court proceedings which may result from it.

Public inquiries can last for years with eventual costs stretching into millions of pounds.

With the financial strain of the Covid-19 crisis, Stormont will likely be under pressure to learn lessons from previous inquiries in efforts to contain costs.

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