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Enquiry into clerical child abuse ordered by Northern Ireland Executive

The Northern Ireland executive has bowed to pressure from victims’ organisations and will announce an enquiry into the abuse of children in religious-run institutions. The enquiry will look into abuse at orphanages, hospitals and schools run mainly by the Catholic Church. Both first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness met with survivors as the scandal in the Catholic Church unfolds. Last month, information reached the public domain suggesting the culpability of Cardinal Sean Brady into the abuse of a number of children by the late Father Brendan Smyth, both in Belfast and the Republic. The enquiry will focus on individual priests and institutions run by the Church, including the infamous De La Salle boys’ home in Kircubbin, County Down, which was described as a “living hell” by former resident Conor Ryan. It remains to be seen what powers the enquiry will have to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. The Catholic Church in particular is thought to maintain secret archives of priests who were known to be abusing children, but who were never reported to the state authorities. Indeed Canon law would seem to stipulate that practice.

In the meantime The Independent newspaper reports on a police investigation called Operation Charwell. Criminal proceedings may be brought as a result of over 250 complaints by former children in residential care in Northern Ireland, stretching back 40 years.

I hope that this move by the Executive in Northern Ireland will strengthen our hand in calling for a similar enquiry in England and Wales.

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