Ministers deliver long-awaited apology over historical institutional abuse
Stormont ministers have delivered a long-awaited apology to victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland – telling them they are sorry they were not believed and not protected.
However, while victims welcomed the statements from ministers, a number walked out of the Stormont Assembly chamber in protest while apologies were being delivered on behalf of the institutions that ran facilities where abuse took place
Around 80 survivors sat in the Assembly chamber, in seats usually reserved for MLAs, as the five ministers, representing each of the main Stormont parties, offered their apology on behalf of the Government.
The public apology was recommended in the final report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI), which was published more than five years ago.
Apologies were also delivered by representatives from religious orders De La Salle, Sisters of Nazareth, Sisters of St Louis and the Good Shepherd Sisters, as well as Barnardo’s and the Irish Church Missions.
Delivering the first apology, DUP education minister Michelle McIlveen said: “Today we say that we are sorry.
“While in the care of the state you were made vulnerable, we did not ensure all our residential homes were filled with love and safety.
“We did not ensure these homes were all free from hunger and cold, from mistreatment and abuse.
“It was the state’s responsibility to do that, and it failed you.”
She added: “We neglected you, rejected you, we made you feel unwanted. It was not your fault. The state let you down.
“We are sorry that you were not believed.
“The state has listened to you and the state believes you.”
Alliance Party justice minister Naomi Long said the Assembly chamber was a “fitting and proper venue” for the apologies to be delivered.
She told the chamber: “This is where our laws are made, where we ministers and those responsible for governing, are held to account.
“We are united in our acceptance of responsibility.
“No-one can undo the past, nor can we undo your past.”
Mrs Long added: “Children suffered in the most vile and unimaginable ways, with life-changing and lifelong consequences for many of the victims.
“The damage experienced by many is not in the past but is a heavy burden they have continued to carry into adulthood, into day-to-day engagement with society, and into relationships.
“It is a burden that continues, to this day, to have an impact on victims and on their families.”
SDLP infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon said no apology could make up for the failings of the past.
“But we hope that our clear and outright acknowledgement will bring some relief,” she said.
“We know that many children suffered greatly as a result of being separated from their families.
“Some experienced neglect and emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them.
“We know that many of you were exposed to a harsh environment.”
Ulster Unionist health minister Robin Swann said that the experiences of victims and survivors had taught ministers a lot.
He added: “We want to acknowledge all of you who had the courage to speak up and highlight the most horrendous abuse, abuse that no child should have to endure.
“This was often done at great personal cost.
“What happened to each and every one of you was wrong.
“It should not have happened and it is critical that every possible step is taken to ensure that nothing like this happens to any other child in the care of the state, ever again.”
The final minister to deliver an apology, Sinn Fein finance minister Conor Murphy, acknowledged that the apologies had taken too long to be delivered.
He said: “The apology we offer you is unconditional.
“We should have protected you and we did not. We are sorry.
“You were harmed by those who should have cared for you. We are sorry.
“You told the truth, yet you were not believed. We are sorry.
“We are responsible. And we are so very, very sorry.”
Representatives from the six institutions spoke after the ministers, setting out and apologising for the abuse inflicted on the children in their care.
Each speaker described the “fear, shame and punishment” inflicted upon young people and acknowledged that apologies can only go so far.
Many stressed that things had now changed and pointed to major organisational failings at the time the abuse was perpetrated.
But Jon McCourt, of Survivors North West, said he felt representatives of the institutions “failed miserably”.
“If this was the best the church could offer by way of an apology, they failed miserably,” he said.
“There was no emotion, there was no ownership, there was qualification.
“Forget about having conversations and just start contributing to the redress fund.”
Margaret McGuckin from the group Savia said while she believed the ministers were sincere in their apologies, she welcomed the statements by the organisations “with a pinch of salt”.
HIAI chairman Sir Anthony Hart outlined a series of recommendations after he disclosed shocking levels of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the period 1922 to 1995.
The recommendations included that those abused in state, church and charity-run homes should be offered compensation as well as an official apology from government and the organisations which ran the residential facilities where it happened, and a memorial.
The apology had been supposed to be delivered by Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers, but this was made impossible after Paul Givan of the DUP resigned as first minister in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It was then agreed that the apology would be delivered by the ministers representing the main parties at Stormont.
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