Wednesday 24 January 2018

Call to expand abuse inquiry remit

Magdalene laundries and clerical abuse victims' campaigners (left to right) Michael Connolly, Patrick Corrigan and Margaret McGuckin after meeting with ministers at Stormont, Belfast.
Magdalene laundries and clerical abuse victims' campaigners (left to right) Michael Connolly, Patrick Corrigan and Margaret McGuckin after meeting with ministers at Stormont, Belfast.

Michael McHugh, Press Association

Hundreds of victims of clerical and Magdalene laundry abuse in Northern Ireland have been left out of a new public inquiry designed to probe past wrongdoing, campaigners said.

Some women had their babies taken off them, were forced to scrub floors or locked in their rooms for hours in institutions for women like single mothers.

Other men and women who claim they suffered years of sex abuse at the hands of predatory priests cannot tell their stories or seek redress under existing arrangements established by the Stormont Executive.

The Historical Abuse Inquiry chaired by a retired senior judge is investigating cases involving children in residential institutions in Northern Ireland since 1922.

Amnesty International Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan led a delegation to meet with Stormont ministers to press for its expansion.

He said: "Many victims are being left behind and what we delivered to the ministers today was a very clear message to say that there should be no second-class abuse victims in Northern Ireland.

"All deserve justice, all deserve truth, all deserve the state to respond to them.

"The state let them down then, it should not let them down again."

Women and girls were made to do unpaid manual labour in laundries run by Catholic nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996. They were intended for "fallen women", unmarried mothers and those with learning disabilities or who had been abused.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has apologised on behalf of the Republic for the state's role in the laundries.

In Northern Ireland, campaigners claim hundreds of people were affected or separately abused by priests outside institutions covered by an inquiry which began work last year.

The Good Shepherd Sisters ran laundries in Belfast, Newry and Londonderry. Another Magdalene asylum, including a steam laundry, was operated by the Church of Ireland in South Belfast.

One man was born in the Good Shepherd Convent laundry in Newry, Co Down.

"My mother was physically and mentally abused, she was made to work and scrub floors," he said.

"She was on her knees scrubbing floors just hours before she gave birth to me.

"She was locked in a cell, in a room, for not working hard enough."

The Stormont Executive has established an inquiry and acknowledgment forum headed by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart.

But Mr Corrigan claimed ministers had not matched the Republic's record in tackling the poisonous legacy after meeting junior ministers from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

"Victims want truth, they want the truth to be finally told. Having lived with the stigma for many decades they want justice," he said.

"They want to see prosecutions of those who committed crimes against them as children or vulnerable young women and they want acknowledgment from the state that it failed them when they were young.

"They want it to deliver redress, to finally own up to what happened to them as children and to carry some of the burden of shame and stigma that these individuals have had to carry for so long."

Michael Connolly, Clerical Abuse NI campaigner and a child victim of a priest in Co Fermanagh, said at least 100 people had fallen outside the remit of Sir Anthony's inquiry and many more had contacted him and other lobbyists.

He said time was running out for those aged in their 60s, 70s and 80s to seek remedy.

"The inquiry cannot take place four or five years down the line, it has got to take place now," he warned.

Those with unaddressed grievances included mothers whose children were taken away without their permission, and clerical abuse victims.

"All of us deserve to have their say, all of us deserve the same justice. Abuse, regardless of where or how it took place, is abuse."

An OFMDFM spokesman said: "Junior ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann held a useful and informative meeting today with Patrick Corrigan, NI programme director of Amnesty International and other victim and survivor representatives.

"The ministers listened closely to personal accounts from victims and survivors of clerical child abuse and from the Magdalene laundry-type institutions.

"Ministers will continue to keep the issue under review."


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