Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unreserved apology follows child abuse inquiry

Irish Church Missions (ICM), an Anglican mission agency linked to the Church of Ireland, has apologised unreservedly for the mistreatment and neglect suffered by some residents of a former church-run children’s home in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. 

The apology came in a statement from Brian Courtney, ICM’s chairman, on behalf of the trustees; and was made following the publication on Friday (20 January) of the final report by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI), a statutory public inquiry established by the Northern Ireland Government.
 
Manor House Home, on the outskirts of Lisburn, was one of 28 child residential facilities run by local authorities, charities and churches to be investigated by the HIAI. Six former residents of the home gave evidence to the inquiry.

The ICM acquired what had been a privately run home for orphaned and needy children in 1927, after its then-owner, Louisa Stannus, asked it to take over the facility. ICM closed it temporarily in 1929 because of inadequate funding. 

The chair of the HIAI, Sir Anthony Hart, described the later decision by ICM’s general committee to re-open the facility as “irresponsible”, saying that it “amounted to a failure to ensure that the home provided proper care.”

He said: “By 1953 the home was in a general state of dilapidation. This, and the inadequate sleeping, toilet and washing facilities for the children, the poor heating, and the low staffing levels all amounted to a systemic failing. It failed to ensure that the home provided proper care.

“In the 1940s and 1950s there was a harsh response by staff to children who suffered from bed wetting, segregating them and make them sleep in unacceptable conditions.

“Staff failed to take steps to prevent, detect and disclose sexual abuse involving the abuse of 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 Inquiry also examined the child migrant scheme, which saw an unknown number of children shipped 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 fourteen were sent, and possibly as many as 144,” Sir Anthony said. “One-hundred and twenty-one were sent by the Sisters of Nazareth, ten by various local authorities and seven by the Irish Church Missions.”

He criticised the Northern Ireland authorities who “failed to make any enquiries whatever as to the fate of these children” and said that Manor House “was wrong to send children to Australia who were so young.”

He said that the ICM had “failed to take sufficient steps to maintain contact with the children after they went to Australia,” and “did not give truthful information to parents of the children who enquired where their child was.”

In a statement following the release of the report, Brian Courtney said that ICM “utterly condemn all forms of child abuse” and said that the agency “gave our 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 regretful 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.’”

He said: “Our deepest sympathies are with all victims and especially with those who have come forward in connection with alleged abuse in Manor House Home. We deeply regret, that despite the care given, some children may have experienced any kind of mistreatment or neglect in the home and for that we unreservedly apologise.”

Manor House Home closed in 1984.

Amongst its recommendations, the HIAI is recommending a public-funded compensation scheme and the erection of a permanent memorial in Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings or government headquarters in Stormont.

The inquiry did not examine clerical child abuse. 

In November 2012, Northern Ireland minister Jonathan Bell said that the Northern Ireland Executive would “give careful consideration to how clerical abuse should be dealt with following the inquiry into historical institutional abuse.”

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