Thursday 24 October 2019

Abuse survivor demands state inquiry

Sarah Stack and David Young

AN abuse survivor who alleges an uncle of the former Bishop of Clogher was one of his attackers has demanded a state inquiry into clerical sex crimes in Northern Ireland.

 

The Stormont Executive has established a statutory probe into abuse committed in state and church-run institutions, but its remit does not cover criminal acts committed by priests outside of children's residential facilities.

 

Michael Connolly claims he was victimised for five years of his childhood in Donagh, Co Fermanagh, by parish priest Peter Duffy, who was later promoted to canon.

 

The deceased cleric was the uncle of the former Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy, who was today heavily criticised for unsatisfactory responses to child abuse allegations and risky behaviour of priests in the diocese.

 

A watchdog review of the diocese, which straddles the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, found opportunities to prevent attacks in the past were consistently missed when concerns were raised.

 

Mr Connolly, who was also abused by members of the notorious McDermott family in Donagh as a child, said he was targeted by Peter Duffy between 1970 to 1975 and claims two other alleged victims have come forward since he waived his right to anonymity in 2011.

 

As today's report on the abuse in the Clogher diocese by the Catholic church's National Board for Safeguarding Children is anonymised, Mr Connolly said he was unsure if it had examined his allegations.

 

The 53-year-old, who now lives in Co Donegal, said it was time for the Executive in Northern Ireland to take responsibility for such investigations.

 

He believes more victims across Northern Ireland will speak out if a state inquiry is held, similar to those which uncovered decades of abuse in the Republic.

 

Mr Connolly, who is head of the campaign group Clerical Abuse NI, has accused the church and state of failing to protect their innocence and ignoring their plight now.

 

"It is clear that not only did the church fail to protect children, but so did the state, which turned a blind eye to widespread child abuse over many decades," he said.

 

"Only a proper public inquiry can establish the facts, hold to account those responsible and ensure that this can never happen again."

 

He added: "The first and deputy first ministers (Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness) should show compassion and immediately set up an inquiry into clerical abuse.

 

"Survivors should no longer be kept in agony."

 

The historical institutional abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland is being headed up by former judge Sir Antony Hart.

 

So far, almost 250 people have applied to shares their experiences to the inquiry team.

 

Sir Antony has insisted that the remit for his investigations is controlled by Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness.

 

He has stressed that if the terms were widened there would be implications on the time frame of when the report would be completed.

 

Mr Connolly's call for a clerical abuse inquiry is backed by Amnesty International.

 

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director, said the watchdog audit provided another glimpse into the horror of abuse suffered by children in parishes in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the way in which figures in the Church hierarchy permitted the abuse to continue.

 

He warned church-approved reviews were no substitute for an independent investigation into clerical child sex abuse throughout Northern Ireland.

 

"It is increasingly clear that clerical child sex abuse happened in Northern Ireland over many years and over many parishes - but only a proper state-instituted inquiry will tell us the extent of the problem and help bring to account those responsible," Mr Corrigan said.

 

"The abuse knew no borders and, indeed as we know, in some instances, the abusers were moved across parish and national borders, abusing children as they went."

 

He stressed clerical abuse survivors in Northern Ireland wanted an independent public inquiry like in the Republic of Ireland, which saw Taoiseach Enda Kenny speak out on their behalf.

 

"Yet, in Northern Ireland, the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry specifically excludes victims of clerical abuse who were not residents of children's homes," he added.

 

Ian Elliott, head of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, said he did not think a state inquiry was necessary.

 

"I'm not a fan because they tend to be very costly, take a long period of time and often tell you what you already know," he said.

 

He added: "I think what came out of Clogher today was voluntarily offered by the diocese and put in the public domain.

 

"Why do you need a statutory inquiry for if it you can get it another way?."

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