Northern Ireland news

Institutional abuse survivors say Stormont collapse 'has added to our trauma' amid fears of cancelled state apology

Historic abuse survivors Kate Walmsley and Margaret McGuckin. Picture by Mal McCann

INSTITUTIONAL abuse survivors have said the expected cancellation of an official state apology has "added to our trauma".

Victims were to finally receive a public apology on behalf of the Executive from First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill on March 11 - more than five years after the publication of the landmark Hart report.

However, that apology looks certain to be cancelled following Mr Givan's resignation.

Campaigner Margaret McGuckin, from Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said she is deeply hurt by the move.

"They are playing politics with our lives," she said.

"People have been waiting for years for an apology.

"This cannot happen to us again."

It is the second time in five years that survivors have been hit by a Stormont collapse.

The Executive fell in January 2017, just after a report by the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry, chaired by the late Sir Anthony Hart, exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse over decades at children's homes run by religious orders, charities and the state.

It took a High Court action and intervention at Westminster before a compensation scheme for survivors was set up.

Ms McGuckin said survivors need an apology on March 11, as promised.

"We don't need this kicked down the road as it has done for so long," she said.

"Please show us compassion."

Jon McCourt, chairman of Survivors North West, said survivors are "being disregarded once again".

"The promised apology needs to be delivered by the First and Deputy First Minister and not be seen as another casualty of political opportunism," he said.

Gerry McCann, chairman of victims' group Rosetta Trust, said survivors felt hugely let down.

"We were assured by ministers just weeks ago that the public apology would be going ahead on March 11," he said.

"Now it appears that those promises are worthless."

Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse, Fiona Ryan, said Mr Givan's resignation "couldn’t come at a worse time for victims and survivors of institutional childhood abuse".

She said if an apology does not go ahead "it will absolutely cause further trauma to many victims and survivors".

Ms Ryan said she was seeking urgent clarity from the Executive Office.

Phoenix Law solicitor Claire McKeegan, who represents a majority of abuse survivors, said Mr Givan's resignation "marks another excruciating blow for survivors".

"The frequency with which I have sadly but accurately described the situation for survivors of historic abuse in Northern Ireland as being outrageous is beyond disappointing," she said.

"I've been instructed to write to the Executive Office for clarity."

She said some survivors are seriously ill and may not survive further delays.

However, she said it is up to survivors whether they would accept a possible apology from a senior civil servant on behalf of the state instead of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

A landmark High Court appeal, known as the JR80 case, that Ms McKeegan took on behalf of a survivor in 2019, "places responsibility for conducting business in Northern Ireland in a protracted period without ministerial governance with the head of the civil service," she said.

"It will be for the survivors to take a view on whether an apology from civil servants in the absence of devolved institutions would provide any or adequate comfort in the absence of what they were promised."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news