Historical institutional abuse

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

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry

The Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse officially fulfilled its Terms of Reference on 30 June 2017 and it 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 those 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 themselves, and evidence from government and other public bodies such as health and social care trusts.

In total 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 and occupied 223 days of hearings.

Final report

In its report, the Inquiry has made recommendations regarding:

  • 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

The final report along with findings and recommendations is available to read or download from the link below:

Next steps

In the absence of a functioning Executive and without the necessary political authority, the report’s recommendations cannot be put in place yet.  In the meantime, the Executive Office (TEO) has been taking forward preparatory work and has drafted legislation on the basis of the recommendations made in the HIA Inquiry’s report with regard to the establishment of a:

  • Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse
  • Redress Board, which would administer payments of financial compensation
  • compensation scheme

TEO now intend to conduct a full 12-week public consultation on the draft legislation, which will launch soon. This consultation, which will be fully publicised online, in the press and on social media, will afford victims and survivors, and the wider public, the opportunity to provide feedback on the legislative proposals. 

Further details of consultation events shall be provided here, once they have been finalised.

Appreciative of views expressed by survivors that the political stalemate has left them in ‘limbo’ with regard to the implementation of the Hart Report recommendations, the Head of the Civil Service has asked that TEO officials urgently investigate the appointment of an Interim Advocate for HIA victims and survivors. It is intended that such an appointment would ensure essential support to survivors until such times as both a statutory Commissioner may be appointed and a Redress Board established.

Officials are progressing this matter with the aim of an Interim Advocate being appointed early in 2019.

You can contact the Executive Office for an update at:

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 help in the following areas:

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

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 with 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.

Help finding information

If you are looking for information on your family history or a public record, this advice booklet is a helpful guide and the organisations below may be able to help you:

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.

In general 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 the Social Service Departments of the Northern Ireland Health Trusts

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

More useful links

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