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The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly welcomes the publication of the report of the historical institutional abuse inquiry under its chair, Sir Anthony Hart; notes his recommendations for redress for victims and survivors of institutional abuse and deplores that political impasse means that the report is not being actioned.
The inquiry was, I believe, one of the first major acts of the Executive in the last mandate. It represents these institutions working at their best. The Executive took a decision to do something about some vulnerable people who had been badly abused over a long period. They brought forward proposals to what we often call their scrutiny Committee, and we know that the role of the Statutory Committee is to assist and advise Ministers. The Committee took a consensual view across the five main parties that there were things that could be improved in the draft legislation, particularly the date at which Sir Anthony would start to look at issues. The original proposal was 1945 — the start of the health service. We said that we should go back to the start of the state, and that was accepted by the Executive Office — OFMDFM as was. I think that I heard Sir Anthony say that that meant that eight people came forward who would not have been able to come forward had the Executive stuck with the 1945 date.
Reflecting on participatory politics, which was brought up in the last debate, I think that the other thing that we felt was wrong was that it was only for institutional abuse. We felt that on the basis that the same abuser could abuse boy A in an institutional setting in the morning and boy B in a domestic setting in the afternoon, and boy A would have access to the inquiry but boy B would not, even though perhaps it was the same man committing the same abuse; the differential was where it happened. That is not equality. We were arguing that point when some victims of institutional abuse and their supporters came to us and said, "Yes, we get it, but please do not halt progress towards this inquiry being set up. We have been waiting a long time for it. Let this inquiry begin, and then do something for those who will not have access to it because their abuse did not take place in an institution". We listened and said, "Fair enough. We will let this go ahead".
On Friday, along with some other MLAs, I was in the hotel in south Belfast when Sir Anthony made his report. I listened to him talk about systemic failures, irresponsible decisions and homes with insufficient staff levels and staff who were inadequately trained. I heard him talk about how the organisations that ran the institutions where the abuse occurred consistently prioritised the reputation of those institutions over the welfare of the children whom they were supposed to protect. There was one word that he repeated, repeated and repeated: the word "systemic" or "systematic" was used by Sir Anthony Hart 41 times last Friday. He identified systemic failures 41 times. Imagine sitting in that hotel room as a victim and survivor of that abuse and hearing 41 times a reference to systemic failures. Is it any wonder that those victims and survivors emerged from that hotel saying that they felt vindicated?
As a commissioner in the commission for Troubles victims, I listened to a lot of victims. There was a common theme: when the horrible event happened, there was an expectation that the state and the agencies of the state would form the wagons in a circle and that anything they needed would be provided. If they needed to get their children to school, needed help with some health issue or needed some money, the state would look after them. The experience was quite the opposite. In this case, the institutions were the wagons. These children, through no fault of their own, were placed in care. The expectation was that they would be nurtured, protected and loved, but the experience was that they were abused sexually, mentally and psychologically.
In the motion, we say that we should note the recommendations of Sir Anthony but, of course, the motion was penned before we knew what those recommendations were. Now we know that they are apologies, a memorial, help and financial redress. I simply ask colleagues in the House this: who are we to gainsay Sir Anthony Hart? Who are we to say, "Let us have a debate about the level of compensation"? Let us remember that today, as yesterday and tomorrow, we are wasting £85,000 of public money because of that renewable heat debacle. If we need to find money for these victims and survivors, let us simply commit to finding it. Let us also remember that this is intergenerational and that we are talking about people who have been denied opportunities and have lost opportunities in life for employment, education, holidays and, above all, for social inclusion and the creation of solid families built on love and all the values that you and I endure and enjoy. There have been huge lost opportunities, so we must do what we can for them. Tantalus-like, the report that they have waited for for decades is now just out of reach. The report was commissioned by OFMDFM, Sir Anthony presented it to the Executive Office and, to all intents and purposes for the victims and survivors of institutional abuse, that office is shut. That is the ultimate obscenity of the failure in Stormont Castle after 10 years of those two parties.
The Committee for the Executive Office has written to the head of the Civil Service asking him if there is any way in which the report could be retrieved from the Executive Office and passed either to Communities or Justice for actioning. I fear that the answer is no, but I think that we are right to ask. I also hear that, after 2 March, 90 MLAs will be returned but an Executive is unlikely to be formed. I hear word that we could be in for a long period of suspension. Surely, if the head of the Civil Service cannot do this before dissolution or when we are in election mode, surely the 90 who come back can find a way of actioning the recommendations for the people across the divide who were abused through no fault of their own and have waited decades for us to act on their behalf. Surely there is a way that we can do just that and prioritise the people over our squabbles and disagreements.
Sir Anthony went through a long list of institutions on Friday, institutions run by Churches and charities. He also talked about failures by other organisations such as the police, the Ministry of Home Affairs, as it was in the old Stormont set-up, the Department of Health, local government and some statutory institutions. We know that, in his recommendations, he has called for apologies, so, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me say this in conclusion: if it is the case that any unionist politician or Minister in any way added to or failed to prevent the abuse and suffering in those institutional settings, I offer my and my party's unconditional apology.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I welcome the fact that it has been tabled and congratulate the proposer of the motion for doing so.
Around five years ago, someone called into my office and related stories of what was going on in Rathgael, both at that time and in the past. Ever since then, I have been working with victims of institutional abuse to get justice, and I welcome the fact that the inquiry was set up. I commend Sir Anthony Hart for the work that he did. I do not know how he sat and listened to the stories day after day, but he did and he did so in a very fair way. More importantly, I want to congratulate the people who told their stories at that inquiry. It took many of them back to the circumstances of what had happened in the first instance and was hugely traumatic.
I want to relate a couple of stories very briefly, because we do not have time to give the stories justice, to tell them in full or to tell them as well as the people themselves. There was a young lad in Rathgael who was not sleeping well at nights and so forth and had a few problems. He was taken out at 6.30 am and made to jump off the pier into cold, icy water. That caused huge flashbacks for that individual, and, ultimately, he had an early death as a result of it. A young girl went into a Sisters of Nazareth home. From the age of eight, she was sexually abused by the priest who was supposed to be looking after confession. She was made to clean the toilets with her bare hands — to carry faeces out of blocked toilets with her bare hands— and to bath in bleach after a priest had abused her. That is the scale of what was happening to children in our society in this western, civilised country, not 100 or 200 years ago but 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It was right that the victims had their voice, and it was right that that voice was heard and acted on. It is immensely regrettable that we do not have a functioning Executive Office so that we can respond to the Hart report. That is absolutely critical.
I appeal to everybody in the House. We are in an election — the die is cast, so that is that — but I appeal to everybody in the House to get round the table and get things resolved quickly — I mean not over months but over weeks — and get back to dealing with issues like this. If you are talking about equality, here are people who need equality.
Where is the fairness in the victims not having their voice heard — not having a response made to them on these important issues?
Lord Justice Hart made a series of recommendations. Some of them are about finance. We will have to get our heads together, look at all those issues and seek to respond as quickly as possible. What I am absolutely clear about is that Ireland, North and South, has a mark of shame on it as a result of abuse of children by a range of people from various organisations. I want a line drawn under this, where we give victims recognition and take every step possible to ensure that new victims do not appear.
Our social care system has improved dramatically, but I do not believe for one instant that we have taken every circumstance out where a child can be abused. Let us have zero tolerance of child abuse in this society. For far too long, people turned a blind eye, covered it up and created the circumstances where child abusers could go from one place to another to carry out their abuse. That is just wrong. We as a society can do so much better. I appeal to the Assembly to give victims all the support possible to get resolution and to draw a line under this very important issue.
First, I would like to acknowledge that some of the victims and survivors are with us tonight. They have had a long wait because this debate was to happen a lot earlier in the day, but it is very short in comparison with the wait they had for the report and the acknowledgement.
I was at the launch of the report on Friday. The feeling, when I came out and spoke to people, was that the important thing for them was the acknowledgment. It was the recognition that, as has been said by other Members, they were the innocent victims. They had not done anything wrong. Finally, there was some acknowledgement that there were people who did do wrong, and did it to them. It was done by the very people who were supposed to care for them and protect them as a parent would. I do not think that very many parents would do to children what was done to these children in these institutions. I certainly hope not.
Speaking as someone who has a close personal connection to the issue, I have some understanding of what it means to the victims and survivors. My husband's mummy, Patsy, who I was extremely close to, suffered at the hands of nuns in one of these institutions — Nazareth House in Belfast — from the ages of four to eight. I will not go into the details of the story because it is her story, not mine, and she is no longer with us, but I am well aware of how she and her three sisters suffered. In fact, one of them died there and did not make it out. I feel that there needs to be some acknowledgment also of those who never made it out of these institutions and died within them. There probably is a failing in not recognising them. I wish to acknowledge them today, because some of their brothers, sisters and family members will still be with us. I spoke to Gerard and his sisters before I mentioned this tonight, because, as I said, it was her story and her children. They understand the impact it had on her throughout her life. It is very personal to a family, and I would not have spoken about her tonight without her children's permission. Whilst they were very emotional, they said, "Our mummy did nothing wrong. She has nothing to be ashamed of". This needs to be exposed and talked about. Thank goodness for Anthony Hart's report. All the things that happened to these children are being exposed and talked about.
The system failed the children — and their families, because these children grew up and had families. The impact was not just on the individual; it was on their families. It is generational; it did not end with that one person who suffered the abuse. I am glad to see these victims and survivors being acknowledged. As you would expect, the abuse suffered by the victims and survivors left its mark on their lives; it impacted on their lives and on those of their families. I welcome that the report acknowledges that and that there are recommendations in it to address that. I also welcome the recommendation that there be financial redress for victims and survivors. It needs to be made clear that this is not about compensation, it is about allowing those people to get access to services that they may not otherwise be able to get access to. It is an acknowledgement that a lot of them did not get the education that they should have and that they suffered hardship in adulthood because of things that happened to them as children.
The motion outlines the fact that the current political situation may delay the implementation of the recommendations. Whilst it cannot be denied that there is a knock-on effect of there being no Executive Office, which is extremely regrettable, no one tried harder to ensure that the political institutions remained in place and delivered for the people than Sinn Féin. We will work day and night. I hope that Edwin means what he said in the Chamber tonight. I hope that we can all get round a table. If there is a change of attitude and a real willingness to work towards equality and serve all the people, we will be able to move this thing forward. However, we all have to work together. There has to be a change of attitude. I take what you said tonight in the Chamber at face value and hope that you will work honestly with us to move this forward.
I thank all those who have spoken. Like others, I attended the launch of the report on Friday and have spent some time since reading it. I think that, for everybody there, it was a very difficult few hours — even for those of us who did not live through those experiences. It has to be said how much the strength, dignity and determination of the campaigners came through on Friday, as it has for many years. It was clear that, for a lot of people, that experience opened up decades of suffering. It must have taken incredible bravery to go to that inquiry and tell your story. That has to be commended, as have, as Mr Poots said, those who facilitated and worked in the inquiry.
Friday's report was a very long time coming; it was my mother, Carmel Hanna, who proposed the motion here in 2009 to set up an inquiry. That was over seven long years ago and after many years of campaigning by the survivors. They saw the inquiry as the next piece of the jigsaw after the Ryan report, which detailed grotesque and systematic abuse in over 200 institutions in the Republic. That report was a watershed moment in Irish politics; it led to a fundamental changing of the relationship between Church and state, and it set the ball rolling for some of the redress that is required here. It provided some catharsis in society by allowing people to have their story heard.
The Hart report, like Ryan, is a horrifying account of so many children's lives being shattered. I read it as a mum, as a Catholic and, like most people, just as a human. What those children were put through is an absolute inversion of the values that most people here will try to put into practice in their faith life or home life. The thought that so many people who perpetrated that abuse did so when they were entrusted as faith institutions makes it all the more appalling, as was the evidence that, in some cases, congregations knew about the abuse and failed to stop it.
Since you have met many of the survivors and victims, do you agree that we are all in awe of the inspirational heroism of the survivors of that abuse? I have had meetings — I am sure that the Member has had likewise — with many of the survivors and victims. Their thirst for life, their redemptive qualities, their lack of interest in revenge, their commitment to community, their often strong faith and all those things are great examples for all of us as we work on the many healing projects that we are involved in.
— it is so important we let the people who have put all those qualities into the public discourse know they have been validated and that the redress they are entitled to is delivered to them. They were children who were entrusted into the care of the state and deprived of that very fundamental human need for love, and they suffered the systematic sexual, physical and psychological abuse that others referred to.
Justice Hart's recommendations were very clear and reasonable, and it is important we deliver on them as soon as possible, a public apology is given by an Executive and those institutions involved and a memorial is built here, hopefully, in the grounds. I think that would be a symbol of society's public and permanent repentance, but I understand it would be difficult for many survivors to come to see. I think it is important as a reminder of that failure and of the idea that this cannot happen again.
Sir Anthony Hart made specific recommendations for practical provision in health, education and social support, which many people will require. He recommended the need for a commission and an advocate to make sure that those who need that support can access it. He also made recommendations for financial redress, and, as others said, literally no sum could compensate people for the life opportunities and the happiness that were denied them. But it is very long past time they had some comfort and the security of that financial compensation.
The publication of the report is a moment survivors have waited too long for. I think the possibility that we will show them the answers and leave it out of reach for much longer is not acceptable. The state has let them down too many times before and cannot continue to do so. The publication of the report and the direction of travel of the recommendations will not come as a surprise to any of us. The Executive commissioned the report, and I think the provisions should have been enacted, as should the proposals to widen the scope of inquiry to people who were abused in clerical settings outside institutions and those in mother-and-baby homes, which were not in the scope of the inquiry.
In finishing, I commend absolutely those who had the bravery to tell their story, and I hope they feel vindicated.
I do not intend to speak for very long this evening. I think the time for talking is over. It is a time for action, implementation and healing. I put on record the absolute support of the Alliance Party for the recommendations in Sir Anthony Hart's inquiry report. I am particularly saddened for the victims of abuse who have campaigned for justice with the utmost dignity and courage. The Executive have now collapsed, and we are heading into a needless election, and this inquiry report, along with many others, is left waiting urgent attention from the new Executive when they get up and running.
When the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse and their supporters came to Parliament Buildings last June — I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret McGuckin, who is in the Gallery this evening — they came to tell MLAs and their supporters that Sir Anthony Hart's report was planning to include a recommendation for a process for redress. It could not have been clearer that the most sensible course of action at that time was for the two Executive parties to ensure it was provided for within the Programme for Government and that an associated budget was included. So, eight months ago it was clear the report was going to come out in January and the chair of the inquiry was going to make the recommendation for redress, amongst other things. If the structure and resources for redress had been worked up behind the scenes, instead of us debating the recommendations of the inquiry report this evening, we would be discussing our support for the programme of redress and its immediate implementation. This is to the shame of the Executive parties, which had the power and, more importantly, the opportunity over the last eight months to make this happen. I do not want to make political points tonight, but I think we have wasted eight months, because we knew exactly what Sir Anthony Hart was going to recommend.
In conclusion, I put on record the Alliance Party's thanks to Sir Anthony Hart. We appreciate his diligence and tenacity in producing such a balanced and fair report. As well as the programme for redress, we support the recommendations for a public, unconditional apology, the creation of the position of a commissioner for survivors of institutional child abuse and the delivery of a memorial. I ask Members here that, unlike with so many other things in Northern Ireland, we do not make the memorial a contentious issue. The last thing that we want to do is fight over where it is located, its format and other such issues.
On the far side of the election, it is incumbent on each and every person re-elected to push for the report's recommendations to be implemented immediately. The victims and survivors of this abuse have been let down time and again, and it is time for that to end. No more talking: it is time for action.
Along with other Members, I sat in the Ramada hotel — it is not called that any more — listening to the report as it was presented. Like my colleague Claire Hanna, I found it difficult. There were three people going through my head: Trinity, Oliver and Cameron Stalford, my children. Listening to a litany of failure, abuse and torture, I thought to myself how I would feel if my children had been subjected to it. It is not that hard to imagine how this happened. These were children who were taken into care maybe because their parents could not support each other or could not support themselves, or because they were born outside of marriage. For whatever reason, they were taken into care. The state — this state — handed over to sadists and rapists children for them to look after.
I thank the Member for giving way. I omitted to mention when I was speaking the tenacious work that Margaret, Marty and the SAVIA team did to bring this forward. On the subject that he is talking about, does the Member agree with me that we have got some honesty but that we could also do with justice? The PPS and the police should be pursuing the sadists that he is talking about.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I absolutely agree with that.
At the launch of the report, I sat next to a man who said to me, "They tortured me and my brother. They beat us every day, and they shoved bars of soap into our mouth". That man was probably 10 or 15 years older than me. When he was describing what had happened to him as a child, you could see that he was regressing in his mind to that time and to what had been done to him so many years ago. He was still living with it all the years after he had left the Church-run institution that he had been sent to. At every level of the state, this was a litany of failure to ensure the good care of vulnerable children and young people. Almost everything that could have been done incorrectly was done incorrectly.
The report presented by Sir Anthony Hart must be actioned. I listened to some contributions, and I have to say that I did not get involved in politics to bring shame upon myself or to let anybody down. I want to see the report actioned. I think that it was right that we waited for its publication. None of us could have foreseen circumstances in which there would not have been an Executive to implement it, but I want to assure the Member from my constituency that I want to see this report implemented every bit as much as she does, if not more so.
I am involved in politics because I want to help people. In my time on the Executive Office Committee, which is chaired by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, there was not one word of disagreement around these issues. We all recognise the seriousness of the situation and the gravity of the suffering that was inflicted on people who should have been protected and looked after. No one has argued or had a disagreement about the nature of the memorial. I have not heard a single person put forward differing ideas. I want us, either in the grounds of this Building or in this Building, to have a memorial that reflects that this shame is an echo back to an era when children were cared for less, when the state took the children of the vulnerable and the poor and pushed them onto the sidelines.
For whatever reason, those who were entrusted with overseeing these institutions decided that it was not worth their time to do so. Here we are, a few generations later, tasked with — I cannot say repairing the mess or cleaning up the mess because that is not right — helping those who have suffered. I want devolution to be used to help those who have suffered. I believe that it is right that there should be an apology for the role that the state played, and I believe that a memorial is a good idea and that financial redress should also be called for. Whilst the state had and should have a role in putting together a financial package, let there be no doubt that the Churches are some of the wealthiest organisations in this land, with the vast reserves of land and property that they sit on. Any Church that had a role in the systematic abuse of children should be made —
I also welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and we welcome the findings of the Hart report. What is important in a general sense is that it acknowledges the hurt and suffering of so many and the wrong done over many years. I suppose that I, like most of us, grew up in a happy family where our parents cared for us. When we had needs, they looked after us and helped us. They ensured that we got a good education. We were kept clean and tidy, and they did all the things that parents do. I pay tribute to all the victims and survivors who came forward and shone a light on the abuse of children in care.
Like others, I was in the Crowne Plaza hotel listening to Anthony Hart read out his report, and it is the stuff of nightmares. For the victims in all those homes, it was not just a nightmare but a reality. I commend them for their courage in coming forward. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind — I agree with Edwin Poots on this point — that we will probably never be able to eradicate abuse in the system completely, but future generations of children will be safer as a result of the actions that the victims and survivors have taken and their determination to ensure that the truth was told. All of us with any leadership role in society or the community owe you a debt of gratitude, and I thank you for your relentless pursuit of justice for all those who suffered in institutions. Your actions have exposed what Judge Hart described as "systemic failures".
We also know that there are many victims who did not or, more likely, could not come forward to give their testimony, and our thoughts should also be with them today. Sinn Féin wants the recommendations of the historical institutional abuse report to be implemented as soon as possible in order to address the needs of victims and survivors. The state and the institutions in question failed in their duty to protect vulnerable children in their care.
It is important that, as Judge Hart recommended, victims and survivors receive compensation for the abuse that they suffered. Of course, no amount —
I am the first person to say that budgets are very tight, but does he agree that we will and must, as a Government, and whatever way this comes back, fulfil our obligations. Certainly, it is our intention today. I have said previously and publicly that we will fulfil our obligations to those who suffered. They are entitled now, to complement the truth that they have received, to get the justice that is redress. Does the Member agree that, despite straitened budgets, there has to be a significant contribution from a future Government — if there is to be a future Government here — to meet their needs? I hope to meet SAVIA next week — some of our colleagues are here from SAVIA — to start that discussion. Someone should start the discussion that has to take place about the quantum involved in the overall compensation. Also —
Someone has to start the conversation about what the compensation will look like and what the overall quantum will be. Someone also has to start a conversation with the Churches and institutions that also have to make a very significant contribution.
I thank the Member for his intervention. Of course, I agree with everything that he said. No amount could compensate for the loss of one's childhood or innocence, but it is only right that any incoming Executive should make funds available for compensation as an acknowledgement of the wrong that has been done and the suffering caused. Equally, the institutions and organisations that were responsible for the children under their care and let them down should make funds available.
For around two and a half hours, I sat listening to Judge Hart, and I can only imagine the rollercoaster ride that it must have been for the victims and survivors sitting in the packed hall. Anyone who was there will attest to the palpable emotion in the room. I spoke to a number of victims and their families afterwards, and the overwhelming mood was one of vindication. They had told their story, and, in the beginning, no one listened, but they were relentless and persistent. They did not give up. They have now been vindicated.
I fully welcome the publication of the report. I thank everyone involved, not least Sir Anthony Hart, in the setting up and running of the process of the inquiry and acknowledgement forum through to the publication of the final report. A huge tribute must also be paid to the many people who came forward to give their account of abuse. No one can be unmoved by the plight experienced by the victims of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland and how it has profoundly affected their lives.
It has clearly been a very detailed and thorough inquiry. It was fully supported by Government in order that those tasked with its operation had all the necessary resources to enable the process to be wholly adequate and robust. The absolute focus must always remain on the victims and the impact of the abuse on the many victims throughout the years. The effect of the abuse was not isolated to the time that victims spent in the place where the abuse occurred. Leaving the institution did not mean the end of their suffering. The horrendous acts perpetrated against the vulnerable and the innocent have stayed with the victims to this day, and the memory of the abuse they lived through is a daily source of pain for them. An important aspect of this inquiry has been to give those victims, who were so deeply and terribly affected by the abuse, a voice and to say to them that Northern Ireland recognises their pain and wants to help to lessen that pain. The inquiry has been a very important process for the victims in this regard.
Another tragedy in the ongoing trauma for the victims is the fact that, as children, they were not listened to. This is a very concerning fact, especially given what the inquiry has found. It is all the more terrible that young vulnerable children, when they needed assistance most, were pushed away, rejected and disbelieved. It is unacceptable enough that children suffered at all, let alone that they suffered —
The Member talks about children being pushed away. Does he agree that it is absolutely astonishing and appalling that they were literally shipped to the other side of the world to Australia where they could be abused by people who were supposed to be caring for them?
I thank the Member for his intervention. It is almost unbelievable that that happened, as one Member said earlier, not that many years ago. It is unacceptable enough that children suffered at all, let alone that their suffering was disbelieved and their concerns minimised and dismissed. That is a shameful state of affairs.
I fully support the publication of the report. It is absolutely important that its recommendations are carried forward. The fact that we now have a period of uncertainty with regard to the future of the Assembly is ridiculous. That fault lies squarely with Sinn Féin, which, for its own agenda, has triggered an election only months after the previous poll. It is deplorable that this long-awaited report has been delivered and now the House cannot move to respond proactively to the recommendations. The victims deserve better, and Sinn Féin must face up to the knock-on effects of its decision to bring down the Assembly, a result of which has been to cause further upset to historical institutional abuse victims.
On Friday, survivors of historical institutional abuse had their day that many had waited decades for. It was a day of public recognition of their suffering. What happened to them was wrong. It should never have taken place and should have been picked up much earlier through investigations by various statutory bodies. Sir Anthony Hart and his team lifted the cover off the 73 shameful years in our history in which some of the most vulnerable in our society — children — were exploited, degraded and abused by those who had been trusted to care for them. I will pick up on what my party leader said earlier. There are 41 references in the report to systemic failures that should not have happened. As the Member for South Belfast said, some were transported to the other side of the world alone, only to face further abuse.
Those who survived to see Friday saw not only verbal recognition but a list of concrete measures recommended by Sir Anthony Hart. They received recognition that the abuse they had suffered did not just affect their childhood; it scarred them and may have limited their opportunities throughout their lives. Had they been dealt a different set of circumstances, they could have walked another path of better educational, social and economic opportunities. I would highlight that the suffering affected children from throughout Northern Ireland, including my constituency. Adjacent to it is the Bawnmore children's home, Barnardo's Macedon and the Sharonmore project, each of which was investigated as part of the programme. Like other MLAs, I, too, have met a constituent who had been placed, in this occasion, in Lissue hospital. He attended the hearing to report the abuse that he had endured whilst under care.
The package of recommended financial compensation recognises the long-term effect on the potential of these people and the abuse that they suffered, and it attempts to put right some of what was wrong by providing some financial certainty. I also agree that significant compensation should be sought from those bodies in whose care these vulnerable young people had been placed. They, too, have a responsibility.
The judge also put in place a number of other measures that would create a legacy to prevent this from ever happening again. That is perhaps the best legacy that all of us should ensure happens.
There should be a permanent memorial in Stormont to ensure that those who suffered are always in our thoughts as legislators. There should be a commissioner to advocate on behalf of survivors to ensure that their needs are met.
In the cruellest and most callous of twists, survivors find themselves able to see the end point, but not able to grasp it. Why? Because of the toxic politics of the Executive. We enter an election period without the full publication of the report or even a 2017-18 budget in place to address the recommendations for compensation. I have heard on the radio and TV victims who should now have finally had some certainty expressing their frustration that they have anything but certainty. The recommendations that were made by the historical institutional abuse inquiry are now left in limbo and have been handed to the Executive Office at a time when we do not have a First Minister or deputy First Minister in place to take them forward. Indeed, there is no one sitting in the ministerial chair tonight to respond to the debate and say what will happen. What legacy will we as politicians and an Assembly leave? There will be an onus on those who come after the election to ensure that something is put in place to deliver on the needs of these vulnerable people.
I urge what remains of the Executive to do one thing in the coming days: to be honest. Survivors have walked a long road, where their hopes have repeatedly been raised and then dashed. The Executive ought to be honest with survivors and tell them what they can and cannot deliver. Finally, as an Assembly, it is important that we pause to recognise —
— the strength of those who fought for this day, being forced to relive the terrible memories and be re-traumatised. It is important that they did it in order that lessons could be learned and to ensure that it does not happen again. I salute the courage of those who provided evidence and contributed to these recommendations.
Obviously, the motion starts by welcoming the publication of the report of the historical institutional abuse inquiry. It is a sad day when we are having to welcome such a report, but of course we all give our thanks to Sir Anthony Hart for the valuable work that he has done while chairing the inquiry into institutional abuse; abuse which is abhorrent in all right-thinking minds. That the mistreatment and sexual abuse took place within church and charitable organisations, which we all rightly expect to hold in high esteem and much trust, is utterly deplorable and should be condemned by all in the Assembly. That includes being present to see through any appropriate recommendations that follow the inquiry.
The motion also speaks of noting the recommendations for redress for victims and survivors of institutional abuse. No one could argue against that desire to see redress for these most innocent of victims, who have had their childhoods and indeed lives destroyed by the most vile offenders — people who were put into positions of trust and were to care for our children. I completely agree with my party colleague Christopher Stalford that the scale of failure to protect the most vulnerable children is astonishing and does indeed represent a complete failure by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the DHSS and the criminal justice system. Children and young people were placed in these homes with the certainty that they would be well cared for, nurtured and looked after, particularly because of the regard in which charities and Churches were held.
This is yet another example of some of the most heinous crimes that have been uncovered in Northern Ireland. Of course, we are not alone: we know that paedophiles, in particular, all across the globe will place themselves in positions of trust and power in order to ensure that they fulfil their own disgusting and warped needs. It is right and proper that we should be repulsed by their actions.
The latter part of the motion speaks, of course, about deploring that the political impasse means that the report is not being actioned. You will certainly have no argument from me on that. The decision by the party opposite to pull down the Government in order to fulfill their political wish list disgusts me. We have recently seen again that party's lack of interest, demonstrated by either empty or virtually empty seats. Election preparations are obviously well under way, because its Members have decided to turn up today.
We cannot ease the pain and anguish from which the victims will never be free, but it would at least show and demonstrate that the Government care about their suffering and recognise fully the wrongs that were committed against these individuals if we took certain action on the back of the report. Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a very sad day when the Government receive a report such as this and are unable or, indeed, unwilling, as in the case of Sinn Féin, to give it the attention and action that the victims of historical institutional abuse deserve.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate tonight. I start by commending my Alliance colleague and Member for South Belfast Paula Bradshaw MLA for her contribution, which goes to the core of the message that needs to be sent out tonight. Given the gravity of the HIA inquiry report, it is now time for action. That, for me, is the key message being sent out this evening.
There is no First Minister or deputy First Minister. However, the victims, survivors and their supporters have been signposting the likely recommendations of this report for months, if not years. We have a Health Minister and a Justice Minister, and if the Executive Office were able to issue a statement about this report on Friday, I genuinely like to think that one of those Ministers could have been here this evening to respond to this extremely important debate and to provide a progress update on the recommendations to the victims and survivors in our community and, indeed, to those who are here tonight.
Deputy Speaker, this has been one of the most challenging issues on which I have worked as an MLA. It has been a privilege to meet the victims and survivors and, indeed, the many people who have supported them along the way. Carmel Hanna has been mentioned, but I also think of Conall McDevitt, Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International and Professor Patricia Lundy of the Ulster University who were part of the panel of experts that has supported the victims and survivors. It is the courage, the dignity and the perseverance of victims and survivors that drove the campaign and progress towards the truth and redress that they deserve. It is for those victims and survivors that I commend the work of the HIA inquiry led by Judge Hart and welcome the comprehensive recommendations that it has made.
It took a two-and-a-half-hour statement and a 2,300-page report — 10 volumes in total — to set out unequivocally how the action — and inaction — of the state and Church organisations charged with protecting children and young people exposed them to the most heinous systematic institutional emotional physical and sexual abuse. I pay tribute to the victims and survivors of that abuse who have had to fight with courage and dignity to achieve the long overdue acknowledgement and truth that they deserve.
Mr Deputy Speaker, sitting at the launch of the report on Friday, one of those victims and survivors turned to me, after every bit of detail that had been put forward, and asked me simply, "Do you think that means that they believed us?". That was the most important issue to him, and I am glad that he has been believed in complete detail. It is crucial that the details of those recommendations, the public apologies, the memorial, the services to meet the individual needs of victims and survivors, and the redress and compensation payment are actioned as a matter of urgency. We need to hear an update as to how that will be achieved.
If it is the truth that these recommendations cannot be progressed in the absence of the Executive, victims and survivors deserve to hear that truth. There is an urgent obligation to implement the report; that alone should serve as a reason for a functioning power-sharing Executive to be put back in place.
As an MLA for East Belfast, I mention the reference to Kincora boys' home in the report. The report found that Kincora residents were exposed to numerous acts of sexual abuse of the gravest kind. Judge Hart gave reassurance that he had access to all the information that he required, but I remain concerned that key individuals appear not to have felt able to give oral evidence to the inquiry.
That remains a concern. I also acknowledge the ongoing need for investigation into clerical abuse of victims outside of institutions and mother-and-baby-home abuse as well.
We need to hear what the Executive have been doing to progress the need for truth and redress for those victims and, of course, the moral obligation on all those in authority to deliver for the victims and their needs.
As someone who has worked for Nexus, an organisation that works with the victims of sexual abuse and rape, I know fine well that this type of abuse has long-lasting and horrific consequences for victims and survivors. More often than not, it takes decades for them to find the space to speak their voice and reach out for some help. We need to ensure that these types of organisations are properly funded in order that they can continue to offer this avenue of help for those who need it.
It is impossible not to welcome this report. It is truly awful, as has been mentioned, but it is being debated in an environment where our government is crumbling by the day and the Executive are not here to move forward on it. I believe that the victims and survivors deserve much more than a half-empty Chamber and a non-existent Executive to move forward with what, I believe, they have probably just started.
I also share the concerns raised by Chris Lyttle about Kincora and those who did not feel that they could come forward and take part in this investigation and their reasons for doing so as well. I want to try to offer a bit of hope to them, that this report is just the first platform or step, and much more needs to be done, and we can be doing much more, to help.
I also think that the campaigners have done much more than wait for this report. They have fought, suffered and struggled to be believed and heard for most of their lives. I also believe that this House has wasted much more than eight months. We have to acknowledge that we have wasted most of the victims and survivors' lives in bringing this to where it is, and it is still not resolved.
When we hear the words "systemic failure", know that this institution is a major player in that system. I have untold admiration for the campaigners, and we can never again say that we do not know, or did not know, because we know.
We need to say sorry; and I am deeply sorry. I am also deeply sorry to every child in this country who is currently living with this fear and abuse. I want to do all I can to make sure that each and every one of them knows that we are listening and going to take action. We are coming to an election. When we go out with our pledges to the public, make this your number one pledge, because this crime did not end institutional abuse. This crime is prolific in our society. It is happening today, it will happen tomorrow and it happened yesterday. This is our shame.
The real tragedy of all this is the fact that, because of the failures of this Executive, these victims are still not seeing the justice that they deserve. Stormont is fast becoming a byword for corruption, and today its legacy of redress for these victims is certainly nothing to be proud of. This whole suffering is our entire shame.
I want to say first that, having sat here and listened to the debate, there were one or two occasions when I felt a wee bit uneasy. Those were occasions when quite spirited attacks were made on the Sinn Féin party for its actions which contributed to the suspension of the Assembly or the crumpling of the institutions. The suggestion seems to be that, somehow, Sinn Féin was — or seemed to be — less than wholehearted in handling this issue, because it had left us with nowhere to go with it now the institutions are gone. The issue was used in relation to a debate that is going on in the Assembly and society that has nothing to do with child abuse or anything like that. It is simply inappropriate that Members from the DUP over there made those points. I think it is right that somebody other than a Sinn Féin Member should stand up and say that, and I am very pleased to say it.
The singer Christy Moore wrote a song called 'Middle of the Island' back in the 1980s. It had a refrain that he kept repeating: "Everybody knew, nobody said". It was about child abuse, but child abuse in a slightly different context. It was about a young woman, a girl called Ann Lovett, who, on a January day in 1984, came out of school and went to the grotto of Our Lady:
"O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary",
— in the outskirts of Granard in the county of Longford, lay down and gave birth. She was 15 years old. This was Christy's point: "Everybody knew, nobody said". She suffered in silence. She gave birth, lying there. The child was born dead. She died within a couple of hours. There is a direct connection between that and what we are talking about.
The destruction of truth and honesty in relation to sex in our society is a contributory factor to all this. In some ways, the understanding was absolutely right. Everybody has spoken compassionately about the victims of this — you cannot have an excess of compassion — but, sometimes, it leads you to speak in a way that does not ascribe blame or point the full blame at where it belongs.
I talked about Christy and "Everybody knew, nobody said". I can remember, when I was growing up on Rossville Street on the Bogside, my mother deciding at one point that we should be one of those family-rosary families and say it every night. So, we did. Every evening, she spoke the phrase — only Catholics will understand this entirely — "The fifth decade of the rosary. We'll say this decade for the home boys. God help them". Other people used it too. That was the phrase: "We'll say this decade for the home boys. God help them". The home boys were the boys from the Termonbacca home, just above the Letterkenny Road on the outskirts of Derry. You used to see them. People talked in whispers about the home boys and the terrible things that were done to the home boys. Everybody knew, and they were decent, kind people. Why did they not speak up? Here is the point I am getting to. It was reverence for the Catholic Church, combined with the oppressive power of the Catholic Church down upon them. The Catholic Church has an awful lot to answer for, and it is not just little, individual instances. It is because of that role and the way in which it was perceived in society that people were afraid to speak out. You did not speak out against the priest. That is one of the reasons why clerical sex abuse lasted for so long and they got away with it.
Peggy Gibson, a woman from Deanery Street in Derry, now living in Queensland, is an example of the result of all of that. She is living in Queensland because she was one of the kids who was exported from this country, North and South, but mainly the North. How did that happen? Why was a five-year-old child taken to Australia? One of the questions that came to me when I was writing about these things was, "What travel documents were involved?". Who gave permission? I finally got it. Jon McCourt, who is in the Gallery, finally came to me with a document that showed what had happened. A priest signed a document certifying that a named nun was in loco parentis and would have the authority to take the child away; the nun countersigned that; the Home Office in London approved it; and off they went. There you had the entire thing. This is a criminal conspiracy. The state colluded in all that. The Catholic Church wanted wee Catholics out in Australia to build them up. The Australian Government wanted English-speaking white kids as part of the "White Australia" policy, and, sadly, sir, nobody in authority in Northern Ireland — in those days, the unionist state —
— was too worried about wee Catholics disappearing from the Termonbacca school. They disappeared. These people were in the custody of the state. I could give you other examples, but I do not have the time. We have to —
As a member of the Committee for the Executive Office, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this evening's important debate, which was brought to the Assembly by non-Executive parties and concerns the publication of the historical institutional abuse inquiry report. I will start by putting on record my thanks to Sir Anthony Hart for publishing the report before us today. I also want to record my appreciation of all those who worked as part of the team that enabled the publication of the report, which has provided vindication for so many victims. I will also take the opportunity to commend the many individuals and organisations that have tirelessly campaigned for justice for the victims of historical abuse. They have run a relentless campaign, and it is important that we give them due recognition today. I know that, for many victims of abuse, the giving of evidence was no easy feat, and I fully commend those people for engaging with the inquiry.
The publication of the HIA report was long overdue. For the survivors of these horrendous crimes, the report represented the hope that they would see justice, their accounts would be vindicated, the conspiracy theories would be verified or dispelled and the whole investigation would be conducted without prejudice. I am glad that that vindication has finally come to those survivors in a report that reveals evidence of systematic failings in the 22 state institutions and homes that were investigated and of the unjustifiable sending of children to Australia for labour.
The authorities failed many, many victims and individuals across a number of institutions, but, most worryingly, the inquiry found that those institutions were seemingly more concerned about their own reputation and protecting the perpetrators than about looking out for the best interests of some of the most vulnerable children in our society. In many cases, those deliberate oversights enabled the continued abuse of the children. In hindsight, it raises this question: what impact would timely intervention have had on these cases? The failure of the authorities is a heinous crime in itself, and the state duly owes an apology to all the individuals affected. I am glad that various organisations that have been investigated and found to be at fault have come forward over the past few days to offer such an apology.
The report makes clear recommendations, including the establishment of a commissioner for victims and survivors as well as a much-needed tax-free compensation scheme. It also recommends putting a memorial in the grounds of Stormont to show respect to those who were wronged by the state. Those are welcome developments, along with other recommendations in the report.
Just as we get to the end of the line after a decades-long wait for justice for these people and just when redress has been achieved through the inquiry report, it has been taken away from them by the childish actions of those who currently occupy what is meant to be the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly. These individuals and their families have suffered long enough, and it is issues of abuse that really put things into perspective as to where the Assembly is today and who it is that we serve. It is now important that the recommendations be brought forward without hesitation, and the compensation scheme must be prioritised to give immediate redress. Following the election, budgetary resources for the scheme must be found, and those funds must be ring-fenced. We need that commitment from any future Executive.
I turn to some of the comments made by Members. The proposer of the motion, Mr Mike Nesbitt, talked about the 41 systematic failures highlighted in Sir Anthony's report. Claire Hanna's mother was the first person to propose a motion of this type to set up an inquiry and get it running. Paula Bradshaw expressed her disappointment at the collapse of the Executive, which, as I pointed out, means that there will be a future delay and a big disappointment that no redress programme has been put in place. Mr Stalford pointed out that there was never any disagreement on the Committee for the Executive Office. That is true in one sense, but, on a number of occasions, I asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister why there was no redress scheme and what was being done and they kept saying that they were waiting for Sir Anthony's report. It is just a pity that nothing was put in place; if it had been, we would have been able to action it now. Mr Roy Beggs talked about the toxic nature of politics here and the message that we send out with no Minister being present to take part in the debate. Chris Lyttle talked about a victim at the report launch who was looking for affirmation that his story was being believed. Clare Bailey talked about the half-empty Chamber, which is very disappointing in many respects.
I commend the motion to the House and acknowledge the people in the Public Gallery. It is unfortunate that they have had to wait so long to view today's debate.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That this Assembly welcomes the publication of the report of the historical institutional abuse inquiry under its chair, Sir Anthony Hart; notes his recommendations for redress for victims and survivors of institutional abuse and deplores that political impasse means that the report is not being actioned.