Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:00 pm on 23rd January 2017.

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Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 10:00 pm, 23rd January 2017

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.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Kennedy] in the Chair)

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.