I was never the greatest fan of The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, though the proceedings at Banbridge do seem to have given some victims an opportunity to have their stories told in the public forum. Much judgement will have to be reserved for the effects of its final report.
One of its limitations is that it can only compel witnesses to appear who are acting under devolved as opposed to reserved powers. Whilst comprises almost everyone anyone working or who has worked within Northern Ireland social services, it also excludes those working in the British security forces.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers yesterday revealed the east Belfast home would not be examined in the Government’s investigation of historical child abuse.
Ms Villiers said she believed the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was “best placed” to investigate the scandal, and she vowed it would have the co-operation of the Government, MI5 and Ministry of Defence.
But critics of the decision said the Stormont-commissioned probe only had the power to compel witnesses and papers related to devolved matters.
That means the panel chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart cannot force representatives of the security services to appear before a hearing.
The Woolf Inquiry scope comprises:
- Government departments, Parliament and Ministers;
- Police, prosecuting authorities, schools including private and state-funded boarding and day schools, Local Authorities including care homes and children’s services, health services, prisons/secure estates;
- Churches and other religious denominations and organisations;
- Political Parties;
- The Armed Services.
By contrast the HIA’s terms of reference are structured in a far more narrow way. Woolf will only look at England and Wales, although only if she survives a challenge of her own chairmanship.
Kincora remains sidelined, despite long and widely held suspicions that as Army whistleblower Colin Wallace notes in Spinwatch today:
The harsh reality that must be faced is that Government agencies and individuals were aware of what was going on inside Kincora during the early 1970s and not only allowed it to continue, but also helped to cover it up.
The Cahill story demonstrates how closely linked politics and abuse of young women and men became during the Troubles. The struggle is how to maintain an open mind and to keep asking questions of a broad legacy which blighted young lives over nearly two generations of abnormal living.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty