POLICE were guilty of a “catalogue of failures” concerning the abuse of boys at a Belfast care-home run by a paedophile ring, says a comprehensive report on child mistreatment across Northern Ireland over more than 70 years. The report also criticised Roman Catholic and Anglican institutions.
The historical institutional abuse inquiry into 22 Northern Irish children’s homes run by Churches, charities, and the State was opened in 2014, and ran for two years.
It was chaired by a retired judge, Sir Anthony Hart, who criticised the institutions involved, and recommended both compensation for survivors and a memorial at Stormont. The inquiry, which sat at Banbridge courthouse, Co. Down, investigated children’s care homes and institutions from 1922, when the Northern Ireland province was founded, to 1995.
Sir Anthony’s report runs to 2300 pages, and contains ten volumes of findings and testimonies, among them that a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) investigation into sexual abuse at one institution, the now notorious Kincora care home in east Belfast, had been seriously inadequate.
The RC hierarchy in Ireland was singled out for ignoring many reports about the Norbertine priest Fr Brendan Smyth, a serial paedophile who raped dozens of young victims in both jurisdictions, and eventually died in prison in the Republic.
An order of RC nuns, the Sisters of Nazareth, also came in for criticism about their running of homes in Belfast and Derry. “In each of the four homes, some nuns engaged in physical and emotional abuse against children. Emotional abuse was widespread in all homes,” it stated.
In the case of Kincora, the report found that the former RUC failed in its duty, on a number of fronts, to protect at least 29 boys who were routinely abused by the housemaster William McGrath. He was a senior Orange Order member, who, with two other staff, was sentenced in 1981 for offences involving 11 of the boys.
Judge Hart dismissed long-running rumours that Kincora was used as a homosexual “brothel” by the security services to entrap paedophiles, to compromise prominent political figures, and that McGrath was an agent of the state. Nor did he find evidence that the home was used as a source of victims for senior Establishment figures in Westminster.
The RC Primate of All Ireland, Dr Eamon Martin, said that the report was a reminder of how much more work was needed to address the problem, and that he would be raising it with Pope Francis at their meeting, which took place last Friday.
The Irish Church Missions (ICM), which is an Evangelical organisation linked to the Church of Ireland, was also criticised. It ran Manor House at Lisburn, near Belfast, from 1927 until 1984. The report said: “Staff failed to take steps to prevent, detect, and disclose sexual abuse involving three boys, by a male visitor. A lack of supervision of children, particularly at night, was indicated by the extent of sexual activity between boys in the home in 1975 to 1977, and by a child with boys and girls.”
The ICM chairman, Brian Courtney, on behalf of the trustees, apologised unreservedly for what had happened at Manor House. Mr Courtney said that the ICM “utterly condemns all forms of child abuse”; and gave its “full support and co-operation to the investigations”.
He continued: “It is a cause of regret that most of the staff, and those responsible for its management, are no longer with us and able to provide their insights. It is even more regrettable that any child was neglected or abused when entrusted to our care. It is reassuring that the Inquiry states: ‘We do not consider that there is evidence of systemic sexual abuse of children by staff in Manor House.’”
The inquiry also commented unfavourably on the “child migrant scheme”, which resulted in the sending of an unknown number of children to Australia for adoption. “We were unable to establish exactly how many children were sent from Northern Ireland, but at least 138 children under the age of 14 were sent, and possibly as many as 144,” the report said. “A hundred and twenty-one were sent by the Sisters of Nazareth, ten by various local authorities, and seven by the Irish Church Missions.”
It found adversely against the Northern Ireland government for failing to monitor what was happening with these children.