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.