Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 pm on 23rd January 2017.

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Photo of Richie McPhillips Richie McPhillips Social Democratic and Labour Party 11:00 pm, 23rd January 2017

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.