Abuse survivors continue battle for justice despite High Court delay

Abuse survivors continue battle for justice despite High Court delay

12 September 2018

MONDAY was another day in many days of frustration endured by victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

The dwindling number still focused on the legal hearings and machinations involved in seeking justice were at the High Court in Belfast. 

Among them are those who have almost given up. Others have passed away. However, a glimmer of hope stubbornly remains.

At Monday’s hearing, Mr Justice 

McCloskey allowed Secretary of State Karen Bradley to delay a judicial review brought by abuse survivors.

The survivors want to force the Secretary of State to implement a compensation scheme recommended by Sir Anthony Hart in January 2017, so it was yet another disappointment. However, the adjournment came with a clear message for the government.

While not accepting the argument that the Secretary of State — who announced new plans for civil servants to be given decision-making powers in the absence of devolution — had made her statement to improperly “stymie the judicial review”, Mr Justice McCloskey stressed that if no movement had been made on redress before November, he would hear the judicial review then. 

Between January 2014 and July 2016, Sir Anthony heard evidence from hundreds of people who spent their childhood in residential homes and institutions between 1922 and 1995.

His redress scheme recommended survivors were to be paid between £7,500 and £100,000 depending on the abuse they suffered.

But it wasn’t just about compensation. Among the other promises were a permanent memorial erected at Stormont, a public apology and specialist care and assistance tailored to needs of victims.

However, Stormont has been long out of action, and those who put their faith in the inquiry are losing it.

Margaret McGuckin, originally brought up in the Carryduff area, is one of the most familiar faces of the campaign for justice.

In 1958 at the age of three, she was taken from the family home, separated from her brothers and sister and made a resident of Nazareth House in Belfast, where she was physically and emotionally abused.

Reflecting on the toll of keeping the fight going over the last two years in particular, Margaret said motivation came when she thought of those more damaged than herself.

“I don’t mind,” she said. “These are vulnerable people who have been in care, left with a process that has been put on the long finger.

“Some have given up. It is only the more able bodied who come to the court. Many are frail. 

“I don’t always want to get out there. Sometimes I want to stay in bed and hide myself away. But I get up and put my lipstick on. I am determined to hold Karen Bradley and her government to account. We have appealed and appealed.”

Margaret, who worked with victims group SAVIA, said it was a situation that deteriorated month by month for those she supported.

“Over 60 victims had died since the start of the inquiry process,” she said. “I think at the High Court Mr Justice McCloskey could see the dismay and despair on our faces.”

The recent visit by Pope Francis to Ireland and his meeting with some clerical abuse victims also appears to have offered little comfort.

“He had to go through that,” she added. “It was a box ticking exercise.”

Margaret admits she has lost the faith of her childhood but does find comfort in a non-denomination group of worshippers she meets with regularly.

“It is new and fresh,” she said. “I still talk to God every day. In private I say to him ‘God I am your vessel — use me’.”

Newcastle man Sam Adair sufffered a horrific series of sexual and physical assaults as a child in Belfast’s Nazareth Lodge and later at Rubane House in Kircubbin, which was run by the De La Salle Brothers.

He is among those who bravely told their story in the initial campaign for a public inquiry and has accompanied Margaret to many hearings since, alongside their solicitor, Claire McKeegan. He acknowledges his outlook has recently been more bleak.

“Everybody is fed up with it,” he said ahead of Monday’s High Court hearing. “Really I could not care less myself. It just goes on and on.”

The DUP are busy with RHI and Sinn Fein are “not interested” until Brexit is sorted, he argues.

“We have the border issue,” said Sam. “Sinn Fein is waiting to see what is going to happen there.”

He believes there are some politicians who genuinely want to help, with the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt  getting a mention. However, he said there was “not a chance” this would be sorted by local politicians in a restored Stormont.

“It’s dire, it’s bleak, there’s no change,” he says. “I have had enough and I’m tired of it. This has been going on from 2009 and it’s now 2018.”

Maintaining some hope following Monday’s court hearing, Margaret said: “Everybody is keeping a close eye on this now, everybody is for the survivors being paid their compensation, so if the Secretary of State is serious about her wanting to move, let her move from this day onwards before any more of our people die.

“This is not just about compensation it’s about the care package, because of the abuse we need the specific care package that Sir Anthony Hart ordered.”

She added: “Judge McCloskey has ruled that if Karen Bradley does not move to implement the Hart Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry findings between now and early November, she will be in the High Court to explain just why not.

“Mr Justice McCloskey will be monitoring movement, if any, throughout October and is setting the ball in motion ready to go for the judicial review in November, if need be. Karen Bradley, Secretary of State, it’s over to you.”