Northern Ireland

Stormont institutional child abuse inquiry begins in October

A Stormont inquiry into institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland is to begin work on 1 October.

It will examine the extent of child abuse in Catholic church and state-run institutions in Northern Ireland.

It followed the damning Ryan Report in the Irish Republic which uncovered decades of endemic abuse in some religious institutions.

The inquiry, announced in December 2010, will begin with a registration scheme for those who want to take part.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the abuse inquiry said he was not in favour of extending the inquiry's remit beyond institutions.

Sir Anthony Hart told the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) committee that changing its terms of reference to include foster care, schools or families would require a complete restructuring of the inquiry.

It would take much more time and money to complete, he explained.

Colum Eastwood of the SDLP asked Sir Anthony what he thought of extending the remit of the inquiry to cover the years before 1945.

"We have no problem with the starting date being altered from 1945," he replied.

Sir Anthony said the people involved "seemed to be quite a small number and they seem to us to have made a compelling case".

Committee chairman Mike Nesbitt asked about the possibility of the inquiry producing an interim report.

Sir Anthony said he was opposed to this.

"Producing interim reports will mean coming to a decision before we have received all the evidence," he said.

OFMDFM chair Mike Nesbitt also asked about potential criminal proceedings.

Sir Anthony said the inquiry was prohibited from making comments regarding civil or criminal proceedings, and that the findings of the inquiry would not be admissible evidence.

Criminal offences

He said the inquiry was alert to the possibility that people might say things to them that indicated criminal offences may have taken place.

Sir Anthony said the panel would make this known to the police where it was their legal duty, adding that they had already discussed the matter with the PSNI.

OFMDFM junior minister Jonathan Bell said people could also sign up to have an opportunity to voice their experiences.

"The Acknowledgment Forum will provide an opportunity for victims and survivors to receive acknowledgement of their experience, and I hope will bring some comfort to them," he said.

"I would encourage all those who were cared for in our institutions and feel they have a story to tell, to come forward to the Acknowledgement Forum."

His Executive colleague Jennifer McCann said the inquiry would be "independent, public, judge-led and supported by an independent panel of people with acknowledged expertise".

Wave Trauma Centres will be open every Friday morning in Belfast and Londonderry as a meeting facility, and a trained counsellor will be on hand if needed.

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