Northern Ireland: Investigation of clerical abuse and Mother and Baby Homes ‘shambolic’

Catalogue of failures includes no meetings for over a year, no meetings with victims, and no research into clerical abuse

A Northern Ireland government probe into allegations of abuse in Mother and Baby Homes and clerical child abuse has been branded as ‘shambolic’ by Amnesty International.

Amnesty and victims campaigners have outlined a catalogue of problems with the current process, an Interdepartmental Working Group led jointly by The Executive Office and the Department of Health, agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive in October 2016:

  • The Interdepartmental Working Group established to steer research into clerical abuse and abuse in Homes has not met since January 2018.
  • The post of Chair of the Interdepartmental Working Group has lain vacant since March 2018 when the last Chair, Norah Gibbons, resigned. Recruitment is now underway, but more than a year will have elapsed by the time a replacement is in place.
  • In the almost two years since it was established in March 2017, the Interdepartmental Working Group has not met with abuse victims.
  • No research into clerical child abuse has yet been commissioned.
  • The timetable for the Interdepartmental Working Group has repeatedly slipped. 

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, has branded the process ‘shambolic’ and has repeated Amnesty’s calls for a proper investigation into abuses:

“As far back as 2012, Amnesty International and abuse victims asked the Executive to establish a proper inquiry into clerical child abuse and violations against women and children in Magdalene Laundry-type institutions.

“Instead, we have seen a series of half-baked initiatives which have repeatedly kicked the can down the road.

“The latest phase, overseen jointly by The Executive Office and the Department of Health, has been shambolic, with no meetings with victims, no meetings or even a Chairperson for the last year, and still no research commissioned into clerical abuse.

Women from Mother and Baby homes in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty International that they suffered arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and the forced adoption and trafficking of their babies.

“Countless child abuse victims have come forward to reveal their suffering at the hands of abusive clerics and gross failures by church and state authorities.

“Such serious allegations of criminal activity must be matched with investigations with the necessary hallmarks of independence, effectiveness and transparency. That is clearly not this process.”

The revelations come via a series of Freedom of Information enquiries placed by Eunan Duffy, who was born in the Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry in 1968 before being taken from his birth mother against her will, after only a few minutes of contact, and placed for adoption.

Mr Duffy is calling for a human rights-based, victim-centred investigation into alleged abuse which took place in the homes:

“Victims of human rights violations in Mother and Baby Homes and survivors of clerical child abuse have been fobbed off for years when we have asked for a proper investigation. Many of the victims are now aged and infirm, with time running out for truth and justice.

“We have been betrayed by those being paid out of public funds to address these issues. For instance, clerical child abuse was supposed to be investigated simultaneously with Mother and Baby Homes, but at some point it appears to have been abandoned. The Safeguarding Board was asked to do this in February 2016, but a subsequent review found it was not fit for purpose, and three years on, no-one else has been tasked with it.

“We have now reached the farcical situation where two years after its establishment, the government’s own working group has still not met with victims and we are left to resort to Freedom of Information enquiries to find out what’s going on.

“We are now calling for a fresh approach, one where the victims are finally heard and one which is fit for purpose in investigating allegations of serious criminal wrong-doing.”

The UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women have both recommended that the Northern Ireland Executive should establish an inquiry into abuses in Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries. It has so far has refused to commit to setting up such an inquiry.

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