The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly expresses grave concern at the findings of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report (the Ryan report) published in May 2009 in the Republic of Ireland; considers that such neglect and abuse of children and young people’s human rights must be subject to criminal law; recognises that children who were placed by state authorities in Northern Ireland in establishments or settings where they became victims of abuse are entitled to support and redress; calls on the Executive to commission an assessment of the extent of abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland, to liaise and work with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland and to report to the Assembly; calls on the Executive to provide funding to support helpline and counselling services which are now facing new demands; and further calls on the Executive to work, through the North/South Ministerial Council, to ensure that all-Ireland protections for children and vulnerable adults are in place as soon as possible.
On 20 May 2009, the Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its report — some 2,500 pages — known as the Ryan report. The report has proved to be a watershed in recent Irish history.
The commission was set up in 1999 to investigate all forms of abuse of children in care in the Irish Republic from 1914, in particular allegations of physical, mental, emotional and sexual child abuse and cruelty in reformatory and industrial schools operated by Catholic religious orders, which were funded and supervised by the Irish Department of Education. There was, of course, abuse in homes other than those run by Catholic orders, but the focus today is on the Ryan report.
During that period, about 25,000 children passed through those institutions. Some 1,500 have come forward with allegations to the Ryan commission, and 1,090 men and women who reported having been abused as children in those institutions gave evidence to the commission. Abuse was reported regarding 216 schools and residential settings, including industrial and reformatory schools, children’s homes, hospitals, national and secondary schools, day and residential special needs schools, foster care and a small number of other residential institutions, including laundries and hostels.
Significantly, the number of child inmates peaked in the early to mid-1940s, around the time when children’s allowances were introduced. From the 1950s, increased wealth and other social welfare measures reduced the number of needy children. That shows that behind many of the family break-ups and other traumas that led to children being put into care were poverty and sheer economic necessity. We must never accept family breakdown, poverty, disadvantage, poor health and inadequate housing as reasons for ignoring the most vulnerable children, nor rest in our unrelenting assault on poverty and disadvantage, at home and abroad.
Because of the Ryan report, the history of Church and state in an independent twentieth-century Ireland has to be fundamentally reappraised. Ryan is the gravest indictment of the powerful and privileged in Church and state: the religious orders, the hierarchy, successive Governments and the Department of Education. Irish people today and for decades will ask how the horrors and terrors that have been documented were inflicted on innocent children who were placed by the state in the care of religious orders. It is a terrifying account of the shattered lives of generations of Irish children.
It is beyond belief to me, as a practising Catholic, that those who perpetrated the abuse had promised to uphold and practise the gospel of love. They betrayed congregations founded to serve the very noblest of ideals. As a Christian friend said, Church and state should, perhaps, be separated, because they could then keep a better eye on each other.
Some MLAs may ask what that has got to do with children who were in care in Northern Ireland. The relevant religious orders operated on an all-island basis, and there have been allegations against and criminal convictions of some of those who were supposed to be the primary protectors of children. That is why Ryan needs to be complemented and finalised by a postscript for Northern Ireland and why the Executive need to act now.
I welcome the sincere and long overdue apology made on behalf of the Irish state by an Taoiseach and his predecessor to the victims of childhood abuse for the state’s collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain and to come to the rescue, and I acknowledge the Dáil motion, which was passed unanimously, welcoming the Ryan report and its recommendations and expressing the shame and humiliation of the state authorities.
I salute the remarkable and courageous people in the Gallery who were residents of institutions. Earlier today, they presented me and other Assembly Members with a petition that was signed by many thousands on behalf of their organisation, Justice for the Victims of Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland. I intend to lay that petition before the Assembly and Executive.
I mention Margaret in particular, because it was she who approached me after I tabled the motion. Margaret and her three siblings were placed in care with the Nazareth Sisters when their parents broke up. She was aged three, and she was kept there until the age of 11. I will read to the House a small part of what she has to say about those eight years:
“No love was ever displayed and that is so difficult and confusing for a young child who has just been separated from her family. We were treated like child slaves … made to scrub the floors, windows and walls. It was just like something out of a Dickens book. We were just little children and we were on our hands and knees scrubbing floors. My whole life there was lived in fear — fear of the next beating, the next humiliation. I was made to feel worthless, that I was a bad person and I kept those beliefs with me my whole life.”
That is only one story; we know that many more remain untold. Margaret’s campaign and that of the other victims and survivors is for the recognition of children who were abused in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the fact that Cardinal Brady said that the Catholic Church will co-operate fully with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the PSNI on allegations of child abuse and that all relevant allegations that are held on the records of the North’s dioceses have been reported. The situation with the religious orders is more complex and unsatisfactory, because they operated independently. However, I am glad that they have now agreed to co-operate with the authorities on a complete review of all the allegations that they have on record.
I note and welcome the fact that the independent National Board for Safeguarding Children, which was established by the Catholic hierarchy, will examine the records of child abuse that are held by all dioceses and religious orders — records that form part of the Catholic Church’s safeguarding policy — and that the Church has given a commitment to transparency and to the principle of the paramountcy of the welfare of the child. The board is undertaking a complete review of the handling of every allegation of child abuse against clergy in every diocese in Ireland, and the result will be reported fully to the civil authorities in both jurisdictions.
From 1965 to today, around 5,200 diocesan priests, sisters and brothers of religious orders have been in ministry in Northern Ireland. To date, allegations of child abuse have been made against 81 of them.
Last week, a good priest from my diocese wrote to me to express his bewilderment and anguish at the revelations of the Ryan report. He asked how:
“a Christian Church could have contradicted so profoundly the fundamental Gospel principle of putting the care of the ‘little ones’ first! So much of what happened was simply evil and inhumane. That it was tolerated or covered up or explained away for as long as it was is just as damning! As a priest, a Christian and a human being it fills me with revulsion and shame. It is also a total inversion of the ideals and mission of the generous and prophetic Irish founders of these Religious Orders. They gave up everything they had to care for children who had no opportunity at education. Where did their successors go so wrong?”
My SDLP colleagues will deal with the other relevant matters and the DUP amendment in their contributions to the debate. My colleague Mark Durkan will elaborate on the reasons why we cannot accept the amendment.
As President McAleese rightly said, those who perpetrated crimes against survivors, no matter how long ago, must be held to account in the courts. The inadequate compensation deal that was reached between the Irish Government and the religious —
Finally, we must never forget that children in care are the most vulnerable and at-risk in our society, a fact that continues to the present day. We must ensure that child protection protocols are in place and are rigorously monitored, so that the abuse that was revealed in the Ryan report will never happen again.
I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after “criminal law;” and insert
“and calls on the Executive to produce a report detailing measures for dealing with past abuse and ensuring that rigorous protections are in place for the future.”
When a report is produced that tells us that violence, rape and sexual molestation were endemic in Irish Roman Catholic-run industrial schools, we are justifiably shocked. When it is highlighted that the 800 or so perpetrators of such evil were not only charged with caring for children but were in a position of responsibility for religious and moral teaching, we can be rightly disgusted. When it transpires that the number of child victims of those vile and other violent and humiliating acts runs into thousands, we are truly horrified. For decades, thousands of boys and girls in the Irish Republic were terrorised, while government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation. That is what was uncovered in the Ryan report.
The House has already heard from the proposer of the motion that the publication of the Ryan report followed a nine-year investigation that produced a 2,600 page report and made 20 recommendations. The report itself has been criticised for affording anonymity to the perpetrators of those terrible crimes, even to those who have been convicted of offences that were dealt with by the report. Shamefully, the Christian Brothers, who ran several boys’ institutions and were deemed to have harboured serial child molesters and sadists on their staff, successfully sued the commission in 2004 to ensure that all of their members, dead or alive, remained unnamed in the report.
No criminal charges will follow as a result of the report, leaving victims such as John Walsh feeling “cheated and deceived” and leading him to comment after the publication of the report:
“I would have never opened my wounds if I’d known this was going to be the end result. It has devastated me and will devastate most victims because there is no criminal proceedings and no accountability whatsoever.”
Another victim Christine Buckley was severely beaten by a nun for trying to smuggle out a letter that detailed the abuse that she experienced, including her claim that she was forced by nuns to meet a paedophile. Other victims have described ritualised beatings with items that were designed to maximise pain. Such beatings sometimes took place in private, but they often occurred in front of staff, residents and other pupils. One victim described how he was forced to wrap his urine-stained sheets around his neck and parade in front of the other children as a punishment for wetting his bed. Furthermore, sexual abuse was reported by over half of those who testified before the commission.
A panel that was appointed by the Irish Government paid compensation to 12,000 abuse survivors on the condition that they surrender their right to sue either the Catholic Church or the state, and around 2,000 more claims are pending. Furthermore, Irish Roman Catholic leaders made a deal with the Government in 2001 that capped the Church’s contribution to a fraction of the final cost. However, some victims have stated that nothing, not even criminal convictions, would ever heal their psychological wounds.
The victims were sent to what were known as industrial schools run by the religious orders. We would know them today as child detention centres, and they were sent to those schools because they were orphaned, neglected or abandoned. They were the forgotten children and those who were the most susceptible to such cruel and horrific abuse, because no one was there to protect them. Their guardians were their abusers, and the state turned a blind eye to that abuse.
I fully support the desire behind the motion to see those who committed such evil brought to justice. It is truly an injustice that thousands suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to care for and protect them and that criminal proceedings have not followed the publication of the Ryan report.
I believe that all Members would want to express their horror and outrage at the abuse that was suffered by children in clerical and state institutions in whatever jurisdiction. We cannot begin to comprehend the fear and vulnerability that the victims of that abuse experienced in settings where they should have received care and nurture. It is the most disturbing of betrayals.
The motion makes many requests, including a call for:
“the Executive to commission an assessment of the extent of abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland, to liaise and work with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland and to report to the Assembly”.
Although I believe that an assessment should be made of the scale of what occurred in Northern Ireland, it should not turn into an inquiry. Furthermore, we should recognise that the circumstances in Northern Ireland were very different to those in the Republic of Ireland.
The desire of victims for justice and acknowledgement is natural and important. I tabled the amendment because I remain seriously concerned that to follow the road of the Ryan inquiry would deny victims the kind of acknowledgement and justice that they most need. The lack of a focus on criminal prosecutions and the agreement to immunity from prosecution for those guilty of such abuse is the most fundamental flaw in the inquiry and not one that serves any of the victims. The Assembly should not move forward in a manner that denies natural justice and gives protection to those guilty of such crimes.
I am concerned that we do not move hastily to follow the example of an inquiry that has left many victims feeling let down and still seeking justice. We must start by considering what we already know about the scope of past abuse in Northern Ireland and the most effective mechanisms for addressing the needs of victims. I understand that much of the information held in the Catholic dioceses has been passed to the police and that any outstanding information is from Catholic orders that work on an international basis.
I am extremely sceptical about an inquiry, as it is highly unlikely that it will deliver anything for victims. First, it will tell us nothing that we do not already know. Secondly, the extent of clerical abuse in institutions in Northern Ireland is unlikely to be the same as that in the Irish Republic, given our much more regulated environment, the better child protection systems in Northern Ireland in general — particularly when compared to the Irish Republic — and the separation of Church and state. Thirdly, any inquiry is likely to be time-consuming and would draw in massive resources that would divert attention from the children and survivors of abuse who need help now.
The Ryan report took nine years to complete and was delayed by a year by the Christian Brothers’ court case on anonymity. I have no doubt that any such inquiry in Northern Ireland would be beset by similar problems.
If the Member does not mind, I would like to continue.
I tabled the amendment to allow the Executive to assess the extent of the problem and to take action where required. Where the identified services are unable to cope, the sexual violence strategy provides a cross-departmental vehicle to address such issues. My primary concern is to ensure that the victims who need access to counselling and support can find that available. Therefore, it is important that we ensure that the current level of provision meets demand and that the victims are not left unsupported. I am aware that one outworking of the Ryan inquiry has been to provide counselling for victims of abuse, and that is also available to the victims in Northern Ireland.
It is equally important to ensure that current systems for protecting children now are as robust and as comprehensive as possible. The border can and does provide opportunities for those who wish to harm children, and it is essential to ensure that systems in both jurisdictions are effective. Our current child protection systems are much more stringent than those in the Irish Republic, and, although there has been progress on vetting and monitoring those guilty of abusing children, it is still imperative that the Irish Government put in place equivalent protection.
The request for a redress board in the SDLP’s motion is unnecessary, given the availability of the criminal compensation scheme in Northern Ireland. The current 2009 scheme and the previous 2002 scheme allow for claims for sexual abuse to be considered where they would have been governed by previous legislation but were ruled out due to time limitation, and that covers incidents that occurred between 11 June 1968 and 30 June 1988. Victims should also be encouraged to pursue other civil remedies through the civil court system to seek legal redress for abuse from institutions and orders.
The primary point that we must learn from the examples of the Ryan report and the Ferns report is that we must ensure that such things never happen again. We must maintain a constant vigil and review repeatedly the strength of our child protection procedures, and that is where vital resources must be channelled. Although I have said that our child protection systems are better than those in the Irish Republic — I say that advisedly — we cannot rest on our laurels, because, to put it simply, no system is ever perfect.
I wholly support the victims of abuse in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in their quest for justice and acknowledgement and to ensure that they receive the support, care and counselling that they require to cope with the horrors they have encountered. I feel that the motion as amended would afford the best framework for that to be achieved.
Go raibh maith agat. I thank the proposers of the motion for securing the debate. It is highly important that we take a level-headed approach to the issues involved, because we are dealing with human beings — victims and survivors. I also want to place on record Sinn Féin’s support for the campaign by victims and survivors and their families, who are calling for a full public inquiry into their treatment in institutions run by the Church and the state in the North, which was similar to the treatment that was highlighted in the Ryan report.
It is important that we consider the outcome for victims and survivors, because the Ryan report highlighted a lot of issues. People spoke about it for years, but the Ryan report formally brought to the fore the treatment that was handed out to children, some of whom were the most vulnerable in our society and whom we as a state, both North and South, had a duty to protect. We failed to do that.
Sinn Féin will oppose the DUP’s amendment. What strikes me is that the Member who spoke previously believes that the motion denies victims the justice that they need. It must be put on record that it is the victims who are calling for the inquiry; I think that they know the justice that they need and want.
The interests and needs of survivors and victims must be paramount, and the Assembly and Executive must do all in their power to ensure that the needs of survivors are met. I am sure that the Member agrees that the issue of institutional child abuse is a deep injustice that affected the entire island of Ireland, and I find it bizarre that the amendment seeks to oppose liaising with the Government in the South of Ireland. I join my party colleagues in giving our support and paying tribute to the survivors who have spoken out, because we understand the courage that it takes to speak out in difficult and traumatic circumstances.
I agree with the Member’s comments. I know that she is speaking as a private Member but I hope that, in her role as a Minister, she will take forward some of those issues in the Executive. I know that she will do that.
The Ryan report exposed a regime of fear that ruled on the dark side of Irish society. We must recognise that it is only because of the courage of the victims and survivors in speaking out that we are able to look at the horror that children and teenagers face. There must be full accountability for that. People cannot expect to get away with the treatment that they handed out to some children. There also needs to be a full national approach to the issue from the Department of Health. I know that the junior Minister will speak on behalf of the Executive, and I think that he will cover some of the things that should be covered by the Health Minister. We must recognise that there is a need to have in place systems and treatment for the victims and survivors across the whole island so that society and the institutions of government do not fail those people.
I acknowledge the courage of victims and survivors, and I welcome those who are present today. A number of us met them earlier when they handed in a petition. You are more than welcome. You say that —
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, but there should be some latitude given, as it happens all the time. I am not questioning your ruling, but Members refer to visitors in the Public Gallery all the time; that may be something that the Assembly should look at. I take on board what you have said.
A full and rigorous inquiry is needed on the issues that Members have raised in the debate. We should not lose sight of the fact that the NIO must be held accountable for part of the issue, and it strikes me that the sooner policing and justice is devolved into local hands, the better. We will then be able to deal with issues such as criminal compensation, which was mentioned by the previous Member who spoke. I appeal that today’s debate be forwarded to the Secretary of State and the NIO so that they are aware of the feelings and views of the Assembly and can provide a response. We can only take the matter so far; the NIO has a responsibility for some of the issues.
I am conscious of the fact that I have only 35 seconds left to speak. It is a pity that we have only this amount of time.
I will finish with the words of the campaigning group:
“We as victims of a harsh and cruel regime over many years in children’s homes have recently come together as one, united in our quest for justice. We are hoping that the motion tabled that day will have the support of all the parties to further our case for justice. Our hopes are that our voices will be heard and that we shall be given the same recognition, as victims of institutional abuse”
— in the Twenty-six Counties. Today is another forum for their voices to be heard, so I support the motion.
The publication of the Ryan report was a dark day for the Government of the Republic of Ireland and for the Catholic Church. The horrors and grief that the report uncovered shocked not only people in Northern Ireland but everyone in the Republic of Ireland and people throughout the world. However, the report confirmed what countless victims, participants in abuse and silent observers already knew. Sexual, physical and mental abuse was endemic in the industrial school system that operated in the Republic of Ireland for many decades.
I thank the Members who tabled the motion. It is unfortunate that the issue of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish state is still a delicate topic and that many wish that it would be forgotten and brushed under the carpet. That must not be allowed to happen; we must ensure that it is fully exposed, that lessons are learned and that it is prevented from happening in the future.
For the majority of their lives, most victims of institutional abuse have been ignored and shunned, and the crimes against them have been denied. Although the number of victims in Northern Ireland may be fewer, the pain and suffering of individual victims is the same, their desire for justice is the same, and their need for support is the same.
Across western Europe in the second half of the previous century, the public’s expectation of what the state should do and the protection that it should offer to its most vulnerable citizens changed for the better. However, in many instances, those protections failed or were wilfully ignored and abused. Due, in many ways, to the influence of the Catholic Church on education, many of the changes in the Republic of Ireland were only skin-deep. There, the nineteenth century institutions, which were operating in the twentieth century, were weakly regulated, leaving the door open for cowardly wickedness and the abuse of innocence.
However, we cannot be complacent in Northern Ireland, although different circumstances and regulatory frameworks have existed here for many decades. Here, following the Kincora inquiry, major changes were made to child protection systems. Protection of children and vulnerable adults (POCVA) regulations have operated for some time, and the new safeguarding regulation is in place. There is evidence that abuse took place, and, for the sake of victims and society, we must ensure that it can never happen again in Northern Ireland.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
It is correct that the issue requires a multi-departmental approach. It is primarily an issue for the Northern Ireland Office, which is responsible for policing and justice and criminal law, to protect children in Northern Ireland. I welcome the statements that the Minister of Health made concerning the considerable and ongoing engagement at official level.
A second reference has been made to the NIO’s role in policing and justice. Will the Member accept that the issue is to ensure that people are made amenable for their awful deeds? Unfortunately, however, the Ryan report involved a negotiated agreement whereby people would be granted immunity and no prosecution would be carried out. That is not the criminal justice system that we want in Northern Ireland.
I thank the Member for his intervention. I am not aware that the Ryan report has any legal standing in Northern Ireland. Our legal justice system has standing here. I hope that the debate and the report’s publication encourage more victims to come forward and give evidence so that perpetrators are held to account and are brought before the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.
The issue can be addressed in a practical way in the North/South Ministerial Council. Some matters that are addressed by the Council are questionable: child protection issues, however, are legitimate. I know that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety will encourage closer monitoring of those issues as changes occur in the Republic of Ireland. It is to be hoped that the Republic will learn from the changes that have occurred throughout decades in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the recent introduction of the vetting and barring scheme’s safeguards in Northern Ireland. Employers face potential fines of up to £5,000 if they even fail to report an employee who harms, or poses a risk of harm to, children and vulnerable adults. I also welcome OFMDFM’s route map for the protection of children and young people. Major changes have occurred in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the enormity and weight of evidence in the Ryan report will encourage change in the Republic of Ireland. To date, the Republic’s child protection system has been antiquated. It has been unable to change that. It needs to change its Constitution fundamentally. I hope that the report will be a major building block in taking that forward so that the Republic’s child protection system will match that of the United Kingdom, which has one of the highest levels of protection anywhere in the world. I hope that that hurdle will be overcome.
I thank Carmel Hanna and her colleagues for bringing this serious matter to the Floor of the Assembly.
The Alliance Party and the United Community group in the Assembly are absolutely shocked and appalled by the contents of the Ryan report. We condemn all those people who had any hand or part in treating those vulnerable young people in the manner that the report describes.
Although I have not read all the report, I have read, heard and seen enough to be able to express my utter disgust and, indeed, to be reviled by its contents. It is almost unbelievable that adult human beings could inflict such disgusting behaviour on little children who, though no fault of their own, were placed in care. Instead of receiving care, love, trust, affection and, indeed, education — as any child should expect to receive — the opposite was the case.
I simply cannot understand how that depraved behaviour was allowed to go on for so long. Surely not all adults in those institutions were monsters. Why did the ordinary guardian or teacher not see what was happening and put an end to it earlier, thus saving many young people from that horrible experience?
It is unthinkable that most of the abuse occurred in so-called religious institutions. Among the issues that are raised in Christian teaching is the principle that, if anyone should offend or hurt one of God’s little ones, it would be better for that person to put a millstone around his or her neck and be thrown into the sea. That is how seriously the matter ought to have been treated.
How many of the adults who had positions of responsibility in those institutions adhered to that teaching? They simply ignored it. They ought to be thoroughly and utterly ashamed. However, my information is that not all institutions on this island had a culture of cruelty and abuse. We must acknowledge the good work done by caring people who looked after children at that time. They did it properly and in the way that was expected of them.
The motion states:
“children who were placed by state authorities in Northern Ireland in establishments or settings where they became victims of abuse are entitled to support and redress”.
The Executive should carry out an investigation and report to the Assembly. Of course, we all support such an investigation.
We know that abuse occurred throughout the 26 counties, so there is good reason to say that it occurred in Northern Ireland, too. The victims concerned deserve an investigation and the same support as those in the Republic. After attending the petition handover on the steps of the Building today, I know that the same thing has happened in Northern Ireland, to the shame of those who are responsible.
Some Assembly colleagues, including my party leader David Ford, have asked the Minister questions. The Minister responded by stating that the statutory framework requires that allegations of child abuse must be reported immediately to the PSNI and social services for investigation. The Minister also said that vetting procedures are as tight as can be and that further legislation is in the pipeline for a safeguarding board for Northern Ireland, which I am sure that we all support. Therefore, progress is being made. However, I am not aware of what the Minister or the Executive have in mind regarding past goings-on in children’s institutions in Northern Ireland.
It appears that abuse took place in the various institutions throughout Northern Ireland during the period that the Ryan report covers, from as far back as 1935 and 1944 to more latterly. People affected here during that period are now coming forward. It took nine years to complete the Ryan report, which has some 2,600 pages and more than 100 recommendations. Let the motion, which I hope that the Assembly agrees, be the signal to the Executive to quickly establish a proper investigation.
The victims have suffered in silence for such a long time. They deserve to have their story told and to see justice. We must ensure that the like never happens again. I support the motion.
I am sure that I am not the only one in the Chamber who has felt the chills of what has taken place on reading the report. I found it hard to read of the abuse of 30,000 vulnerable children in the Republic through the institution of the Catholic Church and the subsequent cover-up. At first, I felt anger and then sorrow at the thought of so many adults now struggling to deal with hateful childhood memories after being put into so-called care and how that has affected their relationships up to 50 years later.
As I read the subsequent newspaper reports, I saw that more than the memories of those who suffered abuse have been tainted by the Catholic Church. Many have had to rethink their position and, at times, even their very faith. The report’s repercusions are far-reaching and wide and have shaken the Catholic Church to its foundations.
I know that all institutions have potential difficulties and that, unfortunately, certain things slip between the cracks. However, that is not the case in this situation; rather, the abuse was known and hidden. There must be repercussions for the perpetrators and some form of closure for the victims of the abuse.
I read a report in one of the national papers about a man who had moved to Australia but who came back to the Republic to tell of his abuse at the hands of caregivers in an institution. His stomach-churning account was bad enough. However, even worse was that his wounds were ripped open for the report only to learn that no one was to be held accountable and that no criminal proceedings were to be held, which made him question why he had bothered at stir up his memories in the first place. That is why investigations must be subject to criminal proceedings. People who have knowingly and purposely carried out or covered up abuse must be held accountable, no matter how long ago the events happened. The Assembly must push for that.
As I stand here, I am aware that hundreds of people outside the Chamber are calling for justice and for us as their Assembly Members to ensure that this is not repeated in Northern Ireland. We must have a structure for dealing with past abuse and a framework that ensures that such abuse does not continue in the future.
Through my constituency work, I hear of individual cases, and whenever I do, I am chilled and hot at the same time. I am chilled, because I cannot comprehend the evil that allows men and women to abuse the vulnerable in any way, and I am hot with anger that that kind of thing happens at all.
When I read in the report of the sheer scale and magnitude of the abuse, I felt sick to the very pit of my stomach. My heart went out both to all those who had been abused and to those parents who were deemed unfit and had their children taken off them and put into the care system. The number of victims of the horrific abuse cannot be quantified, and its effects are rippling through many countries all over the world. I am sure that this shake-up will give many other victims the courage to speak out about what they have suffered.
It is imperative that procedures are in place to ensure that victims in the Republic of Ireland can be put into a support network and can get psychological assistance. Those procedures must also deal with the spillover into Northern Ireland.
It is important that there be some form of accountability in every institution. Sitting in my church and listening to the announcements on child protection seminars and rules and regulations, I am happy that checks and measures are now in place, even in non-governmental bodies. Such checks are essential and must be carried on.
No one is above the law of the land. No one deserves absolution from crimes, unless they are absolved through the courts. No one should ever again suffer in silence and not know where to go for help.
I have read many blogs and reports commenting on the Ryan report, and time and time again, one thing is made abundantly clear: the time for defending your own has passed. I believe that that time has long gone.
It does not matter what country someone comes from, whether it is the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, and it does not matter what religion someone is, Protestant or Catholic. The report has disgusted us all equally. I am positive that, for the first time ever, Members are united in their sense of righteous anger against those who perpetrated the abuse, those who covered it up and those who facilitated the continuance of such a disgrace against humanity.
I know that I have the full support of my constituency and that of every right-thinking Member in the Chamber. I support fully the calls for criminal justice, a report, and a system in the Province to deal with any issues that arise.
As we all know, a society is known by how it treats its vulnerable people. In Northern Ireland, we are determined to do the right thing by our people and to put in place firm checks so that we will never again lose generations to institutional abuse.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the motion, and I thank the Members who tabled it. Tá muid fíorbhuíoch daoibh. I commend the victims and survivors of abuse for their great courage in raising the issue. Tá daoine ó na grúpaí sin linn inniu, agus cuirim fáilte mhór rompu.
I do not recognise the childproofed picture of child protection in the North that the Member who moved the amendment painted. The fact is that youngsters, sometimes as young as three years old, were sent by courts and other systems into unregulated or unaccountable institutions. That in itself is the stuff of nightmares.
I have read the Ryan report, and it is a shameful tale of abuse, over decades, against children in institutions. There is no doubt that the litany of crime, beatings and rape also happened in institutions in this part of Ireland. It happened throughout Irish society and in all sectors of society, North and South.
One in four people suffers from abuse or knows someone who has been abused. In many cases, the truth of childhood abuse emerges only when the victims have grown up. Sometimes that is triggered by flashback or other remembrance, and the effects can be devastating. Victims need support, care, understanding and love. Most of all, victims need to be believed, especially if the abuser denies any wrongdoing. Victims and survivors need, as a minimum, acknowledgement of the great injustice that has been done to them.
Many people in families have suffered from abuse. I know how deeply hurtful and traumatic that can be, especially if a perpetrator refuses or fails to face up to their responsibilities. There is a huge onus on abusers to face up to their responsibilities.
No one should have to deal with abuse or its consequences in isolation. Everyone needs someone to talk to, and anyone listening to the debate who is affected by these issues should talk to someone.
There is a collective need for society to stand together and support individual victims of abuse and their families. Child protection services need to be strengthened. There are not enough social workers, counsellors or other front line staff. Service providers must be properly resourced, all of us need to be educated, and our children need to be empowered and protected.
We have a lot to do to right the wrongs. If we are to truly cherish all the children of the nation equally, societal change is needed. A just society needs decency, fairness and equality alongside accountability and transparency. I commend the motion. Go raibh míle maith agat.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my contribution to this important debate. I thank the Members who tabled the motion for bringing it before the House. The motion correctly challenges us all in Northern Ireland to examine the potential role of the religious orders and, potentially, the state in abuse here.
The findings of the Ryan report were shocking and depressing. The systematic and institutional abuse of minors in educational institutions was disgraceful. The report highlighted that, for a period in the twentieth century, the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state in the Republic of Ireland was, at best, largely dysfunctional. The report was long overdue, but I hope that it can begin to not only heal the wounds of the victims, but ensure that such systematic abuse never happens again.
It is worth pointing out that, in Northern Ireland, we have an entirely different regulatory system that has undergone considerable reform and progression in the last 30 to 40 years. I welcome that difference. However, we cannot be complacent. Personal testimonies remind us that people in institutions in Northern Ireland had terrible abuse inflicted on them. Such instances of abuse should, first and foremost, be investigated by the PSNI and the Court Service. Like my colleague Roy Beggs, I encourage anyone with allegations to report them to the police so that proper investigations can be undertaken.
My colleague Roy Beggs was right to highlight that this is a cross-departmental issue that also involves the Northern Ireland Office. The Executive must take seriously the legacy from decades of abuse. We must ensure that any action taken is backed up by adequate services and resources. Those who have endured suffering, in some cases for many years, can no longer be ignored.
The debate is important and concerns a legacy issue. I am confident that the protections in Northern Ireland are the best available and I am assured that they are under constant review.
However, we must ensure that people who have suffered in the past are no longer left to do so in silence. The motion raises issues that go to the core of society and asks searching questions about the institutions and organisations that many of us took for granted. Societies are often judged on how they treat members of society who have been abused. However, societies are also judged on their sense of justice and ability to achieve it. We must change failing practices and make progressive reform. For those reasons, the Assembly must take the motion extremely seriously. Unfortunately, some debates in the House become meaningless; that should not happen in this case. I support the motion.
This is an emotive and difficult issue. I will speak briefly. Although Mr Newton, who is a junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, will respond to the debate, he will do so on behalf of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. That fact emerged only this morning. The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, of which I am Chairperson, has not considered the Ryan report or the motion. Therefore, I will not take a more substantive role in the debate.