A former training school for girls in Middletown is to be included in the ongoing investigation into historical institutional abuse.
St Joseph’s Training School, which was located at Church Street, was one of four such institutions in Northern Ireland.
It was built in 1876 and renovated substantially in 1969. It closed in 2000.
Today Sir Anthony Hart, who is heading up the inquiry, which has been sitting in Banbridge Courthouse, announced that a further six institutions were to be investigated as part of a process which has already sat for 157 days or oral evidential hearings into alleged abuse of children in the care of 16 institutions.
The inquiry has also been investigating the migration of young people to Australia and the notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
St Joseph’s Training School is one of six additional institutions to come under the spotlight of the HIA inquiry, bringing to 22 the total number being investigated. It is the only County Armagh-based institution on the list for investigation.
Three Good Shepherd Convents in Newry, Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, as well as Millisle Borstal and Manor House, a Church of Ireland voluntary home near Lisburn, were also added to the list today.
Sir Anthony said that in drawing up this list of six additional institutions the inquiry had carefully considered information in respect of 54 homes and institutions in relation to which at least one person had made an allegation.
But to hold hearings in respect of each of these could take a further two years and cost at least another £8 million “without significantly adding to the inquiry’s understanding of the nature and extent of systemic failings”.
Despite the inclusion of the six additional facilities to be looked at, the inquiry says it will still complete its investigations by July 2016 and submit its report in January 2017.
Sir Anthony also spoke of the inquiry’s views on redress for victims and stated: “Because our investigations are not complete we are not yet in a position to say what our findings of systemic failings will be, or what all our recommendations will be.
“However, what we can now say is that from the evidence we have heard so far we will recommend that there should be a scheme to award financial compensation to those children who suffered abuse in children’s homes and other institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.”
The chairman went on to announce that the inquiry would be conducting a targeted consultation to gather further views and suggestions on redress from all the applicants who had contacted either the inquiry or acknowledgement forum.
The consultation period will run until Friday, January 8 next year.
The Chairman emphasised that the final decision on redress did not rest with the inquiry, adding: “although our terms of reference provide that the inquiry will make recommendations and findings on a number of matters, the final decision as to whether there should be any form of redress, and what form it may take, are matters for the Northern Ireland Executive to decide.”
Sir Anthony acknowledged that some individuals may be disappointed that public hearings will not be held for every home or institution against which allegations have been made.
But he added that the decision not to hold a public hearing in respect of a home or institution did not mean that the inquiry had decided that abuse did not occur in those locations.
He also clarified that it would not have any effect on any recommendations that may be made for compensation or other forms of redress.
“Any recommendations that we make for any form of redress, including compensation, will apply to any person who was abused within a children’s home or other institution within our terms of reference, whether or not that home or institution was investigated by the inquiry.”
The inquiry has a remit to investigate physical, emotional and sexual childhood abuse, and childhood neglect which occurred in residential institutions in Northern Ireland over a 73-year period, up to 1995.
Amnesty International has welcomed an announcement by Northern Ireland’s Historic Institutional Abuse inquiry that it will investigate allegations of abuse at six additional institutions.
Amnesty has campaigned alongside child abuse victims and women and children from the Mother and Baby Homes for an investigation into allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse as well as the forced adoption of babies born in the institutions.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:
“The inclusion of the Mother and Baby Homes and the other children’s institutions in the abuse inquiry is very welcome news.
“Victims of abuse, including those young women and girls who suffered in Mother and Baby Homes, are now a step closer to uncovering publicly the truth of what happened to them and their babies.
“Some women have told us how their newborn babies were taken away from them and given away for adoption without their consent. It is hard to think of a more cruel act to perpetrate on a new mother, yet we know this happened the length and breadth of Ireland.
“The inclusion of these additional institutions in the inquiry is a significant result for those women and child abuse victims who have called for justice. Yet, we know there are still others, including victims of clerical abuse within the community rather than in children’s homes, who are still waiting for a similar inquiry into their suffering.”
Amnesty also welcomed news that the inquiry is recommending that the Northern Ireland Executive should establish a financial compensation scheme for those who suffered abuse in children’s homes and other institutions here.
Mr Corrigan added: “For some years Amnesty has called for the Northern Ireland Executive to commit to a compensation scheme for abuse victims. The announcement by Sir Anthony that he backs this call is a very welcome development.
“His recommendation now places the onus on Ministers to put in place a victims’ compensation scheme and to ensure that both government, religious and other organisations make the necessary funds available.”
Read more news:
Sign up for our weekly newsletter here.