The Committee was reminded that the Council, at its meeting on 3rd July, had passed the following motion on the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which had been proposed by Councillor Heading and seconded by Councillor McReynolds:
“This Council notes that the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Child Abuse found that children's homes run by some churches, charities and state institutions in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland were the scene of widespread abuse and mistreatment of young residents.
The Council notes that Sir Anthony Hart, Chair of the Inquiry, recommended compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors.
The Council expresses deep concern that, due to the failure to form a power-sharing government, there has been no progress into implementing the Hart HIA Redress Findings.
The Council agrees to write to political party leaders in Northern Ireland to ensure that, if an Executive is formed, the Inquiry's recommendations are implemented in full as a matter of urgency.”
It was reported that a response had now been received, on behalf of the Secretary of State, from Minster Chloe Smith MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Minister Smith pointed out that the Secretary of State had met recently with historical institutional child abuse victims from a number of organisations in Northern Ireland, during which he had reiterated the Government’s condemnation of any form of abuse of children and its abhorrence of any tolerance by people in positions of responsibility of such activity by others.
She stated that the Government had always believed that the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which had been announced in 2012 by the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister, was the most effective way of establishing the truth and that both the Government and agencies had provided the fullest possible level of co-operation. She highlighted the fact that Sir Anthony Hart, who had led the Inquiry, stated clearly within his closing statement that the report, its findings and recommendations were now a matter for the new Assembly and Executive to consider and urged them to implement his recommendations as a matter of priority. Minister Smith concluded by recognising fully the frustration felt by victims and survivors at the current lack of progress due to the suspension of the devolved administration and added that the Secretary of State continued to urge the Political Parties to restore the Executive to allow a response to Sir Anthony Hart’s report to be provided at the earliest opportunity, including on his recommendations for redress and support for victims and survivors of child abuse.
In addition to the response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Council had, to date, received responses from two leaders of Political Parties, namely, Mr. Steven Agnew MLA and Mr. Robin Swann MLA of the Green Party and the Ulster Unionist Party respectively.
Mr Agnew, within his response, recognised the urgency of the issue and maintained that the implementation of the report arising from the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry should not be delayed as a result of a failure to form an Executive and Assembly. He added that he had written to the Secretary of State to urge him to implement the report immediately and requested those Political Parties on the Council to urge their leadership to do the same.
Mr. Swann confirmed that he had written also to the Secretary of State on this issue and that he was committed to maintaining his Party’s longstanding position of supporting the victims of historical institutional abuse. He too regretted the fact that the absence of an Executive and Assembly had delayed the process and supported the Council’s call for the Inquiry’s recommendations to be implemented as soon as the political institutions were restored. However, he pointed out that the Panel of Experts on Redress believed that the recommendations relating to compensation fell short of survivors’ needs and had identified flaws and had suggested improvements. Mr. Swann confirmed that, in the absence of the Executive and Assembly, he had called upon the Government to examine both the recommendations of Sir Anthony Hart and the Panel of Experts on Redress and options for bridging the gap between them. He concluded by stating that he was working currently with other Political Parties to identify common ground and help deliver justice for the victims Historical Institutional Abuse.
The Committee noted the responses which had been received.