End in sight for abuse victims’ long campaign

By Scott Jamison

“Many people thought we wouldn’t get this far. There were points when I didn’t even think this would happen.”

Margaret McGuckin admits she had her doubts about the chances of an inquiry into child abuse here being launched on many occasions throughout her struggle for justice.

But last week’s announcement by the Stormont Executive that such a probe into alleged abuse in both Catholic and state-run institutions will take place and have statutory powers has brought delight to the Lower Ormeau woman, who describes it as “the beginning of the end” of her campaign.

Margaret and her sister Bernie suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of nuns in the Nazareth House orphanage on the Ormeau Road throughout the 1950s and 60s. After seeing the extent of the widespread abuse in the south via the Ryan Report in May 2009, Margaret decided she and her fellow victims in the north deserved the same recognition.

Now head of the Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse organisation, Margaret said last week’s news came as a huge relief to her and is the culmination of part of a long journey she has been on.

“I’m delighted and so are others with this. I can’t express how happy I am that we have got to this stage. Many of the victims are elderly, vulnerable and have been through even more than I have, so if I’m ecstatic, I can only imagine what they are feeling now.

“We have had to go through this process not knowing day in or day out what is happening or where we would get with it, if anywhere. I have not been able to sleep properly for a long while due to the pressure surrounding this whole thing.

“But at the very start I said the victims should trust the authorities to help us because of the goodwill we had as a group and I think that has now been shown to have been the correct approach.”

The inquiry, which followed the establishment of a taskforce in December to investigate the various avenues open to the Executive, will be phased in over the next two years and will be armed with the ability to compel the release of records and call witnesses.

Margaret says the statutory nature of the inquiry is of vital importance.

“Somebody will have to be held responsible. I know in my own case many of the nuns involved are now elderly and infirm, not to mention some have passed away, so it will then have to be the institutions or whatever is left of them. People and organisations will have to hold their hands up and admit there was wrong done to us. The courts are open for those who want to go down that route and seek criminal proceedings but I think most of us just want to tell our stories and have them listened to.”

The first phase of the inquiry, which according to First Minister Peter Robinson will begin “as soon as possible”, is expected to be a ‘truth forum’ that will allow victims to recount their experiences as part of an opening investigation.

Margaret says she knows plenty of her fellow victims will be making use of the process to state what happened to them in a number of homes across Northern Ireland.

“Lots of people are now coming forward to tell me what happened to them who previously didn’t, all thanks to this news about the inquiry. It has inspired people to get things off their chest and not hide.

“What happened to them doesn’t have to be a secret any more. We all need help and this is the first stage in getting that.”

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