Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill part one

The Executive would consider how to deal with the issue of clerical abuse once the inquiry into institutional abuse had reported back, Junior Minister Jonathan Bell told the Assembly, on 20 November 2012.

The Assembly was considering 79 proposed amendments to the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill.

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

The SDLP's Colum Eastwood said there were many changes that were required to be made to the original bill, "not least the change from from 1945 to 1922".

The original bill intended the Inquiry to cover the period 1945 to 1995.

Mr Eastwood said the issue of clerical abuse also needed to be dealt with.

UUP leader and chair of the OFMDFM Committee Mike Nesbitt gave a detailed briefing on the work of the committee in its consideration of the bill.

He said "the resulting bill is stronger as a result" of the contribution of committee witnesses, particularly the victims themselves.

Mr Nesbitt said the committee asked if the envisaged cost of the inquiry had changed from the original estimate of £7.5m.

Officials said the estimated costs had doubled to £15m, and had assured the committee that the necessary funds would be made available.

Chris Lyttle of Alliance condemned child abuse "in any form" and said he believed that "we are moving in the right direction.

Outlining his party's views on the various amendments, Stephen Moutray of the DUP said the change of date to 1922 was welcome.

Megan Fearon of Sinn Fein said "the period in question is a horrifying time of our history".

Danny Kennedy of the UUP spoke about one of the amendments put down by the TUV member, Jim Allister, referring to children from Northern Ireland who had been abused in institutions in the Republic of Ireland, and vice versa.

He detailed abuse suffered by children at a home in County Wicklow who "were given injections if they wet the bed, and were beaten with electrical leads".

Mr Kennedy said the children were also sexually abused.

Jim Allister said he regretted that amendments he had suggested calling for the inclusion of clerical abuse within the remit of the inquiry were not before the house.

He said he found it "bizarre" that the terms of reference of the bill were not written into the bill.

Junior Minister at the Office of First and Deputy First Minister, Jonathan Bell, said this was "a truly historic day".

"These were people who were abused and hurt in the most horrible ways" by those who were supposed to care for them, he added.

He outlined the views of the department on various amendments.

"I urge you to reject Mr Allister's amendments," he said.

The junior minister said the issue of clerical abuse was no less important than institutional abuse.

"The executive will have to give careful consideration to how it should be dealt with," Mr Bell said.

This consideration would come after the inquiry into institutional inquiry had reported back.

He said Sir Anthony Hart was satisfied that the terms of reference of the inquiry were not included in the bill.

Conall McDevitt of the SDLP said the original bill had been "deeply imperfect".

He said the inquiry would go "close to the heart of this state".

"It is important that we bolt down every last part of this," he concluded.

Amendment one, proposed by Mr Eastwood and Mr McDevitt, was defeated by 70 votes to 22.

The second part of the debate will appear here.

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