Northern Ireland news

Historical institutional abuse survivors 'felt like they were on trial when seeking compensation'

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse at children's homes run by religious orders, charities and the state across Northern Ireland between 1922 to 1995. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker
Michael McHugh, Press Association

Some survivors of historical institutional childhood abuse in Northern Ireland felt like they were on trial when they sought compensation, an Assembly member has said.

A redress board headed by High Court judge Adrian Colton has paid out millions of pounds in compensation to those harmed in residential homes run by religious orders and the state.

Payments were a key recommendation in a public inquiry which heard harrowing tales of physical and sexual wrongdoing over many decades.

Martina Anderson said: "Some of them feel like it is like being on trial."

The Sinn Fein Foyle representative added: "Many of these victims had thought it would be a more private way of telling the extent of abuse.

"For some of them they are saying that is not the experience."

The Hart report was the culmination of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) public inquiry which examined allegations of child abuse at 22 residential institutions run by religious, charitable and state organisations across Northern Ireland over a 73-year period.

It recommended compensation, memorialisation and an official apology.

The commissioner representing the interests of victims, Fiona Ryan, acknowledged it was a legalistic infrastructure, established after years of delay while Stormont was suspended.

She told a virtual meeting of Stormont's Executive Office committee today the redress board was open to feedback about its processes.

Ms Ryan said society needed to learn from how it had treated the vulnerable in the past.

"If we do not learn from the mistakes of what happened with historical institutional childhood abuse, and we do not learn from the mistakes of the mother and baby homes, we will be doomed to repeat them.

"We need to understand the reality of how that system was able to operate.

"This was not unknown, people knew what was happening."

She said society functioned through norms.

"Who decides these are the norms? Because it suits someone in power, it suits the power structures that exist and those norms are constantly being reinforced and renewed.

"So that is how women and children, boys and girls, were able to be systematically and systemically abused: physically abused; emotionally abused, psychologically abused, sexually abused, neglected, in the context of historical institutional childhood abuse and then the emotional, psychological abuse, the neglect, the absolute destruction of any form of agency or control that you saw in mother and baby homes."

Committee chairman Colin McGrath said that instead of making victims wait six months for support, there already exist support mechanisms which the Executive could be employing.

"These innocent victims have had to wait a lifetime to be heard and believed, and they cannot wait any longer.

"It would be utterly inhumane to expect them to wait another six months."

Read more: All mother and baby home records must be made available to people who want to know who they are, says Catholic bishop

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