Amnesty International has expressed concern at delays by a religious order and other bodies in submitting evidence to Northern Ireland’s Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry into child abuse in residential care homes.
'We are concerned that late submission of evidence by respondents might undermine the ability of the inquiry to establish the full truth of abuse'
Christine Smith QC, senior counsel for the inquiry, has reported that delays by the Sisters of Nazareth order in submitting evidence to the inquiry have caused considerable difficulties, with material given by the order also not having been properly ordered.
Amnesty warned that these problems echoed the experience of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in the Republic of Ireland, which also complained of delays in cooperation by both religious orders and state bodies in providing evidence. The Commission complained in its report that religious congregations had 'adopted an adversarial, defensive and legalistic approach'.
Amnesty International Northern Ireland Programme Director, Patrick Corrigan, said:
'Sadly, this appears to be a repeat of the approach taken by some religious orders to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in the Republic of Ireland, leading to concerns that this was a deliberate tactic to delay and frustrate the investigations of the inquiry.
'Given the fixed lifespan which the Northern Ireland Executive has put in place for the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry, we are concerned that late submission of evidence by respondents might undermine the ability of the inquiry to establish the full truth of abuse suffered by children before it is able to conclude its work.
'Complaints by the senior counsel to the inquiry about the "less than whole-hearted" response of the Sisters of Nazareth order, underline how right victims were to insist that the inquiry must have full powers to compel evidence, rather than simply rely on the cooperation of respondents.
'We call on all respondents to the inquiry to offer it their full cooperation.
'We also make clear our call that the life of the inquiry should be extended if this proves necessary to cope with any delays caused by difficulties in securing evidence in a timely fashion.'
Christine Smith QC, senior counsel for the inquiry, told the public hearing yesterday:
'This less than whole-hearted and rapid response on the part of the congregation has caused considerable difficulties to the work of the inquiry.
'The congregation is not the only body whose approach has produced problems. We do appreciate that this is not always avoidable but we hoped that such late delivery could have been avoided, given the difficulties which it causes for the inquiry.'