What Northern Ireland is REALLY offering child abuse survivors

The ticking clock... /

A WEEK ago today the Executive at Stormont announced with great enthusiasm the decision to establish a statutory inquiry into historical institutional child abuse with the power to compel people and documents.

Campaigning survivors of child physical and sexual abuse were overjoyed at the prospect of finally getting justice and some kind of compensation. It had been a long and painful journey along the road pursuing justice and reparation.

But then there was the small print. Its authors and disseminators decided not to draw attention to it or to its importance. So it almost went unnoticed.

However the Detail and Amnesty International have picked up on a crucial detail of the plans which will fundamentally determine whether the inquiry will be of any value to either the survivors or the wider public: a time limit which means it will only have teeth for its final six months.

This timescale imposed on the process is set out in a copy of a briefing paper junior ministers presented last Thursday at Stormont at a meeting with survivors of abuse. The meeting took place immediately prior to the public announcement by the First Minister Peter Robinson and acting Deputy First Minister John O’Dowd.

This briefing paper clearly stipulates that the institutional abuse inquiry will operate on a strict two-and-a-half year time scale – with the clock ticking from the moment the inquiry begins in its toothless non-statutory form.

Meanwhile the Assembly will be drafting new legislation to specifically cover this inquiry – a ‘bespoke’ piece of legislative creation as it has been described – and this process is expected to take two years, meaning the inquiry will only have powers to compel witnesses and documents in the final six months of its existence,

Under the heading ‘Time period,’ the briefing document states: “The inquiry and investigation must conclude within a two year six month period from the commencement date. The chairperson must provide his report to the Executive within six months of the conclusion of the inquiry.”

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, who advised the campaigning group SAVI [Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse] described the time scale as unsatisfactory and of some concern.

“The Executive has made much of its commitment to establishing a statutory inquiry to investigate widespread allegations of abuse against children,” he tells the Detail, adding, “but closer examination of the proposals reveals something less than we had hoped for.”

Mr Corrigan says that rather than setting up an inquiry with full statutory powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of records, the Executive has moved to establish a non-statutory inquiry, pending new legislation through the Assembly to provide it with additional powers at some future date.

Mr Corrigan goes on: “The revelation that the Executive is stipulating that the inquiry must conclude within two and a half years, yet the parallel legislative process at Stormont could take as long as two years, means that the inquiry may only receive the powers to carry out its work properly in its dying months, with the clock ticking all the while.”

He says some survivors are aware of the time limit on the inquiry but remain happy that something positive has come of their long campaign.

Mr Corrigan says that giving the statutory inquiry just six months to compel evidence and witnesses is an injustice to survivors of abuse. He complains that the proposed inquiry in Northern Ireland falls ‘far short’ of the sort of inquiry and redress systems put into place south of the border.

“Victims north of the border,” he said, “still seem to be running the risk of getting a second class inquiry and a second class redress system and they are not second class victims. Whatever side of the border abuse was suffered, people deserve the same quality of justice and we are concerned that is not the case.”

Mr Corrigan said the inquiry as constituted falls far short of what was used in the Republic to secure witnesses and documentary evidence that delivered the kind of justice and reparation required in Northern Ireland. He says he will discuss this with Ministers at Stormont in the coming weeks.

Patrick Corrigan : concerned

Patrick Corrigan : concerned

Compensating the victims

Patrick Corrigan is concerned that the Executive has, to use his words, made it clear it is not putting its hands in its own pockets to pay compensation. He says the State bears a responsibility for what happened to children in care whether or not it was in a State-run institution or a religious institution. It’s his view that the State should pay up and reclaim from the institutions.

Leaving it to the institutions to make voluntary contributions was not, he said, an adequate system of redress for people who have suffered great pain and borne that pain for many decades.

He also argues that the system of voluntary contributions has not been a success in the Republic with even a negotiated agreement not being honoured by the Catholic Church. The church promised to pay back the Government in instalments but as recently as July this year the Government confirmed the church was behind with its payments. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn went on record to say he was ‘not confident’ the Catholic Church would pay up half the €1.36bn compensation bill to settle claims of clerical sexual abuse.

The Republic, however, has established a system of redress for survivors of abuse. Last week, a few days before the announcement of the statutory inquiry here in Northern Ireland, the Residential Institutions Redress Board in the Republic released its latest update.

This reveals that the average payment so far is €63,000 and the highest award was €300,500.

The legal costs are staggering. The Redress Board has paid legal bills to over 920 firms of solicitors across Ireland in respect of 13,209 applications. The total cost? €163.8 billion.

Unsurprisingly, the Executive has ruled out this kind of commitment.

Patrick Corrigan said there are concerns over the decision by the Executive not to put of some kind of funding to recompense survivors of abuse. “To say that the State is simply going to make a request for voluntary contributions from religious orders, for instance,” he said, “seems to fall short of what is required particularly given that religious institutions south of the border have been unwilling to stomp up money the Irish Government has asked for.”

The Detail survey

The Detail has been conducting its own survey of the costs of compensation for each diocese in Ireland. In the past few months we have contacted every diocese once and those that didn’t respond the first time were contacted a second time with a request for information about the cost of compensation.

Diocese of Kerry

1. The diocese of Kerry has paid €517,000 to survivors of clerical abuse

2. €395,971 has been spent on legal fees and treatment relating to clerical abuse.

These payments are the total payments to date.

Diocese of Galway Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora

1. Galway diocese paid €30,000 in one case which is historical.

2. €20,000 was paid on legal fees.

Archdiocese of Dublin

1. The costs, so far, to the Archdiocese for settlement of claims regarding child sexual abuse by priests is currently at €13.5 million

2. €9.3 m in settlements and €4.2 m in legal costs for both sides. This relates to a period over 15 years.

Diocese of Ferns

1. The Diocese of Ferns has paid out €8,400,000 for settlement claims and has completed 52 settlement claims.

2. Counselling costs and safeguarding children’s initiatives has amounted to €865,000.

Ardagh and Clonmacnoise

Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise

1. Has paid out €600,970 in seven civil cases.

2. €230,970 in legal costs

3. Since the mid 1940s a total of 304 priests have held appointments in the diocese and 12 priests have had allegations made against them.

Diocese of Cloyne

  • In view of the small number or persons to whom compensation has been paid to date and of the fact that a further small number of cases are still ongoing the diocese does not consider it appropriate to make total costs public at this point in time.

Diocese of Limerick

1. The Diocese has not made any settlements or payouts in this regard. No priest of the diocese has been convicted of clerical abuse, nor has any civil action been settled by the diocese.

Diocese of Down and Connor

• A statement issued by the Diocese of Down and Connor in December 2009, stated, “Approximately £270,000 has been paid out by the Diocese of Down and Connor in relation to the settlement of claims of abuse. There are obviously other financial costs including legal fees, counselling and support of victims and the cost of establishing and maintaining a Child Safeguarding Office.”

• The statement concluded: “I will get back to you with further details as these become available.”

Diocese of Kilmore

• Up to now the diocese has not paid compensation in relation to complaints of sexual abuse of a minor. The diocese has paid €108,334 to meet part of the legal expenses of one claimant who sued the diocese jointly with other parties.

• Apart from the above, the diocese has paid €138,618 on legal fees relating to clerical abuse.

• These figures relate to the period from 1997 to the end of 2010.

The true picture of the cost to the church in Ireland is well hidden. While there are hundreds of cases pending as individuals pursue legal cases against the church, it is almost impossible to establish the costs – many of these cases are settle in court but most with a confidentiality clause aimed at protecting the church and its good name.

Patrick Corrigan acknowledges the secrecy surrounding claims against the church for clerical sexual rape and abuse. He does not feel that the supposed statutory inquiry announced amid such fanfare last week is the answer.

The legal obstacles

There’s been much speculation as to why the Executive had to write new legislation to provide a properly, legally empowered inquiry. Why not simply use the existing Westminster legislation – the Inquiries Act 2005?

The Detail has made enquiries and established fundamental legal issues. Firstly the 2005 Act (Section 30) applies to an inquiry for which a Northern Ireland Minister is responsible. That is clearly not the case here. And in paragraph (2) (a) it states that the inquiry terms of reference must not require it to deal with matters that at the relevant time were a Northern Ireland matter. These clearly were Northern Ireland matters at the relevant time.

Furthermore, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 did not provide legislation that could deal with anything prior to 1973. The Secretary of State could deal with anything before 1999 but not as far back as the N.I. Constitution Act 1973. This inquiry has a remit to cover from 1945 to 1995.

So the Assembly will now go about writing a new piece of legislation…bespoke legislation that might only cover this one inquiry. The Detail understands there are still aspects of the 2005 Inquiries Act that cannot be incorporated into new legislation – at least not easily.

So as the survivors of advice look forward to securing justice and financial redress for their pain, Patrick Corrigan remains to be persuaded that the present proposed inquiry goes far enough.

He concluded his interview for the Detail with a stark appraisal of what is actually on offer here in Northern Ireland: “We would like to see from day one of this inquiry it taking the proper powers to do its job rather than have one hand tied behind its back for the first couple of years. And then a ticking clock hanging over it for its final months of operation. That does not seem to be the optimum way of delivering justice for the victims of some heinous crimes.”