Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Wednesday, 19 September 2012 16:41 UK

OFMDFM Committee

The OFMDFM committee's latest series of evidence sessions on the Inquiry into the Historical Institutional Abuse Bill was marked by concerns over legal aspects of the committee's scrutiny role, on 19 September 2012.

The committee took evidence from Barnardo's, the Poor Sisters of Nazareth and the De La Salle Order.

The inquiry, which will be headed by retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart, will examine allegations of abuse at children's homes, care institutions and borstals between 1945 and 1995.

Lynda Wilson, Northern Ireland Director of Barnardo's, said the inquiry should be based on "effectiveness, fairness and focus on victims".

She said the terms of reference should be written with "an awareness of the magnitude and complexity of victim support needs".

Sister Cataldus of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth assured members of her order's "full commitment to co-operating with the inquiry".

She outlined a number of concerns the order had regarding vulnerable witnesses, human rights, the right of reply and legal definitions.

Trevor Clarke of the DUP was concerned about the nature of the session given that the witness was accompanied by a solicitor, Fintan Canavan.

Mr Canavan said he was not there "to be some sort of defence counsel".

Sister Cataldus said she had worked in South Africa and had seen the value of the truth and reconciliation process there.

She said the order would abide by the end result of the inquiry.

Trevor Clarke's party colleague, William Humphrey, raised the possibility that by taking evidence from witnesses accompanied by lawyers the committee was overstepping its responsibility .

Mr Humphrey was concerned about the possible influence on any subsequent prosecutions.

Mr Clarke said the committee could jeopardise the inquiry because the subjects being discussed were outside its remit.

There followed a lengthy discussion among the members about whether to suspend the meeting to call for legal advice.

The committee eventually agreed to continue with the next evidence session.

Brother Francis Manning of the De La Salle Order spoke briefly to welcome the inquiry, saying he hoped it would be "a source of comfort and closure for all involved".

The remainder of the order's evidence was given by its solicitor, Joe Napier.

Mr Napier raised a number of issues regarding the order's homes, the right to reply and the possibility of undermining a criminal prosecution.

The committee then heard from OFMDFM officials on Programme for Government delivery plans.

OFMDFM committee membership


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