Northern Ireland news

Executive has 'moral responsibility' to apologise to institutional abuse survivors, commissioner says

Fiona Ryan, Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Abuse

RELIGIOUS institutions criticised by a landmark inquiry are unlikely to make a standalone public apology if a state apology does not go ahead as planned, a commissioner has said.

Abuse survivors were told on January 20 that they would receive a state apology from the executive and an apology from the institutions next month.

But the apologies are in serious doubt following Paul Givan's resignation as first minister.

It is more than five years since a report by the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) 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.

Fiona Ryan, Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse, said the religious orders "were directly involved in running institutions where the abuse took place but the state also ran institutions".

"I would find it hard to imagine how the institutions could make an apology without the executive," she said.

"The recommendation is very clear - the Northern Ireland Executive and the institutions should make a public apology. My view is that we should get as close to the spirit of that recommendation as possible."

Ms Ryan pointed out that the executive includes sitting ministers who could potentially make a state apology in the absence of a first and deputy first minister.

"The HIA inquiry was a public inquiry," she said.

"We have a moral and ethical responsibility to see those recommendations implemented. The apology is five years delayed but it's really a lifetime delayed."

Ms Ryan has called for everyone involved to "get beyond politics and understand the symbolic importance and personal significance of an apology to victims and survivors".

"This is part of the state's reparation to survivors of abuse," she said.

She added: "The decision around an apology can only be made at a political level.

"I can offer options, victims and survivors can offer options, but in the end we're not the decision-makers."

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

Following the fall of the executive in January 2017, it took a High Court action and intervention at Westminster before a compensation scheme for survivors was set up.

Ms Ryan said that victims and survivors had been left hurt and frustrated by continued delays.

She said on the day of Mr Givan's resignation "our office was taking calls non-stop from victims and survivors saying to us 'we have been disregarded, we have been discarded' ".

"It reminded them so much of what happened to them as children in the institutions."

She added: "There is this feeling of disappointment and sadness along with 'oh, here we go again'... 'this is how we've been treated because this is always how we've been treated'."

The compensation scheme for survivors is being reviewed.

However, Ms Ryan said she feared any recommendations arising from the review could "gather dust on a shelf" without any political leadership.

"I've written to the head of the civil service asking how this is going to be taken forward," she said.

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