Historical institutional abuse

The Northern Ireland Executive set up an inquiry and investigation into historical institutional abuse. The inquiry covered abuse of children under 18 who lived in children’s homes, borstals, training schools, juvenile justice centres, hospitals and orphanages between 1922 and 1995 in Northern Ireland.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry

The inquiry into historical institutional abuse officially fulfilled its terms of reference on 30 June 2017 and is now closed. 

The inquiry was independent from government and had two main parts. One was the Acknowledgement Forum, whose members listened to the experiences of people who were children in residential institutions (other than schools) in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995. 

The other part was the Statutory Inquiry, which investigated whether children suffered abuse in the same institutions between 1922 and 1995. It gathered evidence from people who said they suffered abuse in those institutions, as well as evidence from the institutions, and evidence from government and other public bodies such as health and social care trusts.

The inquiry investigated 22 institutions, as well as the circumstances surrounding the sending of child migrants from Northern Ireland to Australia; and the activities of the late Father Brendan Smyth. The investigations were divided into 15 separate modules with 223 days of hearings.

Final report

In its report, the inquiry recommended:

  • an apology
  • a memorial
  • additional service provision/specialist care and help for those who were abused
  • a statutory commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse (COSICA)
  • financial compensation to be administered by a redress board
  • annual grant funding for the Child Migrants Trust

To read the final report and recommendations, go to: 

Draft legislation

In early 2018, the Head of the Civil Service (HOCS) directed The Executive Office (TEO) to develop draft legislation.

This draft legislation was on the basis of the recommendations made in the Hart Report for:

  • a commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse (COSICA)
  • a redress board, which would receive, process and make payments of financial compensation
  • a compensation scheme

Consultation

Draft legislation was completed in autumn 2018. On 19 November The Executive Office (TEO) launched a public consultation seeking the views of victims, survivors and the public on the draft legislative proposals. The consultation ended on 10 March 2019 and received 562 formal responses.

Consultation responses

TEO analysed all consultation responses and published a report on 13 May 2019. 

To read the Historical Institutional Abuse Consultation's report on responses, go to:

The Head of the Civil Service wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (SOSNI) on 2 May 2019 and provided an analysis of the consultation responses. They asked that legislative proposals for establishing a COSICA and Redress Board be taken through Westminster.

The SOSNI sought the views of local political parties on policy issues raised during the consultation that required ministerial decisions.

Local political parties agreed the issues and wrote collectively to the SOSNI on 11 June 2019. They stated their wish that legislative proposals should be updated and then progressed through Westminster as soon as possible. 

Status of draft legislation in August 2019

On 19 July, the Head of the Civil Service wrote to the SOSNI. They enclosed the updated legislation and asked for the matter to be given urgent consideration and taken through Westminster. 

Letters with the latest update were sent to local political parties and victims' and survivors groups.

Interim advocate

On 2 July, the Head of the Civil Service, appointed the interim advocate for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse.

They will operate until the statutory Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of Historical Institutional Childhood Abuse has been appointed, in line with the recommendation in the Hart Inquiry report.

The interim advocate is independent of government and will act as a voice for victims and survivors. They will:

  • advocate on behalf of victims and survivors during the passage of legislative proposals
  • work with service providers to make sure the needs of victims and survivors are known and emphasised
  • reach out to victims and survivors in other jurisdictions
  • be a channel of communications for the sector

The interim advocate took up their role on 12 August 2019.

To read more about the interim advocate, go to:

For the interim advocate's contact details, go to:

Help for victims and survivors

Advice NI, on behalf of The Executive Office (TEO), can offer advice and support to victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse. You can get advice about: 

  • benefits and housing
  • debt and personal finance
  • education and further education, jobs and training
  • searching for personal records
  • help reporting abuse incidents to the PSNI
If you need help or advice with any of these issues, you can contact Advice NI and ask for a HIA advisor, Monday to Friday between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm:
  • telephone: 028 9064 5919

If you need help urgently

If you are in distress because of historical institutional abuse, and need to speak to someone urgently you can call the Lifeline helpline.

You can call Lifeline for free on 0808 808 8000 from UK landlines and mobiles, in confidence, 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Somewhere for victims and survivors to meet and talk

The Wave Trauma Centre in Derry/Londonderry holds a drop in centre for historical institutional abuse victims and survivors every Friday. You can meet other victims and survivors and talk over a cup of tea or coffee.

A qualified and trained counsellor is also on hand to offer extra help and support.

Reporting abuse to the PSNI

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has specialist units across Northern Ireland, based within Public Protection Units (PPU), who will investigate all reports of institutional abuse.

Find your nearest child abuse investigation unit, by contacting the PSNI.

General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI)

The General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI) holds records of births, deaths, marriages, civil partnerships and adoptions in Northern Ireland.

There is a search room open to the public for anyone who wants to use the records to trace family members.

You can also search for records online

Access to adoption records is more restricted. If you were adopted you can apply to see your original birth record.

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

The Public Record Office holds some records which may help victims and survivors of abuse. It also has records to help you research your family tree and advice to help you start.

PRONI does not hold:

  • records of voluntary homes
  • records of homes run by religious orders - these may still be with the relevant order
  • files of individual children in care – from 1947 these are held by social services in Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Trusts

You can search the records online or visit PRONI and search in person. 

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