Victims of historical sexual, physical and emotional child abuse in church and state institutions in Northern Ireland have accused Stormont of failing to face up to the need to provide proper compensation for their suffering.
Two victims who addressed the Northern Assembly’s Executive committee on Wednesday were also critical of the Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Jon McCourt of Survivors North West and Margaret McGuckian of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse said that when they met Archbishop Martin in July they got the impression that he felt the Catholic church was the victim rather than the survivors.
Mr McCourt said they felt “belittled” at the meeting.
“The church, I think, just literally fobbed us off and in fact there was a point where both Margaret and I were going to get up and leave the meeting because we were more or less told that if the church hadn’t done what it done in the ’50s or ’60s things could have been a lot worse for us,” he said
“In other words, we were made to feel so belittled in that meeting,” added Mr McCourt.
Ms McGuckian said Archbishop Martin had “his guard up” during the meeting.
“Archbishop Eamon Martin had asked or said, ‘You know, what did you expect us to do? What did you want us to do?’ and I had to reply, ‘Well we didn’t ask to be abused whether it was sexually, physically or mentally or emotionally’,” she added.
In a statement afterwards, Archbishop Martin said he was “somewhat taken aback by comments” regarding the meeting.
“I asked for and hosted this meeting in Armagh which was also attended by Professor Patricia Lundy of Ulster University and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International.
“The sentiments which I have learnt of today were not conveyed to me at that time or since. Moreover the statement published by the group immediately after our meeting does not reflect the issues reported on today.”
Archbishop Martin continued: “I appreciate that there are deep emotions related to this most sensitive and serious of issues. I have always maintained that the Catholic Church must fully accept its responsibilities to those who have suffered abuse.
“I have greatest of respect for Margaret and Jon, and for those who, like them, have bravely come forward to share their stories and who have advocated on behalf of others. I will continue to do my best to communicate their concerns to all with leadership responsibilities in the Church, and to attempt to do so in a spirit of compassion and concern.”
Mr McCourt is one of more than 300 survivors of abuse who gave evidence to the North’s Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry which is chaired by retired judge, Sir Anthony Hart.
The campaigners made clear to the Northern Assembly’s Executive committee that receiving adequate financial redress for the abuse would be a key demand of victims.
“Compensation can have a significant vindicating effect on survivors. It is an acknowledgement of the failure of the state to protect vulnerable children,” Mr McCourt told the committee which is chaired by Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt.
Between January 2014 and July 2016 the statutory inquiry investigated 22 institutions where alleged abuse against children was carried out between 1992 and 1995.
The HIA is to present its findings in mid January next year. Sir Anthony Hart already has said financial compensation will be one of its recommendations.
Mr McCourt said that for many survivors there was “nothing historic” about the abuse they suffered.
“While no amount of money can reduce the harm caused, a compensation payment could ease the pressure and help to make life a little more comfortable for survivors in older age,” he said.
A panel of experts on redress set up by four victims’ groups has made proposals on how compensation could be paid.
One of the members of the panel, Professor Lundy complained that formal requests for meetings with Ministers were not answered.
“This is a very vulnerable group of people and it is very surprising that a minister or junior minister would treat such a vulnerable group in such a way,” she told the committee.
In a statement issued after the committee hearing, the Executive Office of First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the findings of the HIA inquiry before they are published in January.
“Ministers remain sensitive to the views of all those who have suffered abuse and are mindful of the destructive impact it has had on many people,” said a spokesman.