Derry councillors have unanimously supported a motion which called on the British government to immediately compensate victims of institutional abuse and apologise for the “hurt and pain” inflicted on those children.
At the first full council meeting of the term on Thursday 29th June, members of the North West Survivor’s group including chairman, Jon McCourt, were in the public gallery.
Councillor Michael Cooper of Sinn Féin tabled a motion that the Council call on the British Secretary of State to immediately bring forward legislation that will deliver on the amended recommendations contained in the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report.
That included, it read, financial compensation and an apology from government for the hurt and pain caused to children placed in various institutions and homes around the North as reported in the HIA Inquiry Report released by Sir Anthony Hart on the 20th January 2017.
Cllr Cooper believed that the motion would put further pressure on Secretary of State (SoS) for NI, Karen Bradley, and the British government to bring about redress after long delays.
A number of other councillors spoke on the matter, including Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit, who delivered an emotional speech.
He said the vast majority of these children were in the care of the state who outsourced this business to religious institutions and commended individuals like Jon McCourt who have given victims hope by carrying out research and providing them with inspiration.
Cllr McCann recalled victims of abuse in Derry who took their own lives. In one particular case a young man was taken from Termonbacca in Derry, by an official of the state, to a home in County Down.
“He was handed over at the door, to the Holy Ghost Fathers, he said to me, ‘fifteen minutes after the social worker left there, they had my trousers off’. He said that to me in my kitchen one day.
“A few weeks later the person in question hanged himself from a fire escape. Those are the people we’re talking about, the state had responsibility then and it has responsibility now.”
Others were abused again, he explained, when they were shipped off to Australia. He shared the heart-breaking case of a woman who lived in the Brandywell and was sent on a boat to Australia.
On route this child’s name was taken from her and she was informed that she would be forever known by a different name.
“They told her we won’t address you by your own name anymore. They told her she had no brothers or sisters, they told her that her father and mother were gone, that she was on her own. All of this was lies,” Cllr McCann said.
“They took her identity, they took her family, they took her name. For forty years she tried to find her brother and she knew he had been left behind.”
In a phone call she had told Cllr McCann that had memories of her brother taking her to the Daisyfield and sitting her up on the wall on a Sunday afternoon. The existence of her brother was denied by the state and the Catholic church when she sought answers.
“We’re not looking for kindness, we’re not looking for charity, we’re not looking for solidarity. We’re looking for the state to accept responsibility and guilt for what it did, Karen Bradley is today the representative of the state that did that to children in this city and elsewhere. We’ve waited long enough and they have waited far too long for it.”
SDLP Cllr Brian Tierney, welcomed the motion and described as “immense” the dignity and strength shown by victims throughout their campaign.
He said that his party leader, Colum Eastwood, had tabled amendments to the inquiry legislation at Stormont which “would have provided the inquiry with the opportunity to publish an interim report on requirements for redress to be taken forward, this would have guaranteed victims and survivors access to a compensation scheme.”
Cllr Tierney added that the DUP, Sinn Féin and the UUP opposed those proposals. The strength and resilience of survivors stands in stark contrast to the “petty politicking” demonstrated by the Secretary of State, he added.
The British government owes victims an apology, he said, for the trauma they suffered at the hands of the state and for unnecessary delays.
UUP Alderman Hussey praised his former leader Mike Nesbitt for “taking a lead” on the issue and condemned the SoS for a “dereliction of duty…it is shameful that the SoS should hold us to ransom, and particularly the victims and survivors to ransom over this issue”.
Meanwhile, DUP Alderman said his party supported the motion and couldn’t understand delays on the part of Karen Bradley. “I’m disappointed this has had to come to our chamber because I do believe it should’ve been sorted out before coming here.”
Independent Cllr Gary Donnelly said he grew up close to Termonbacca where some of the most vulnerable people in society were “neglected and abused”, and it was “compounded” by cover-ups and delays. He “wholeheartedly” supported the motion.
The motion was unanimously backed and victims present in the chamber were applauded for their courage by all councillors.
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