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4 November 2020 | Comment | Article by Alan Collins

Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 – 1 year on

It’s a year since the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 received Royal Assent and came into operation, and a lot has happened since in more ways than one.

The Act is a direct outcome of the child abuse inquiry chaired by the late Sir Anthony Hart.

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 Inquiry investigated:

  • 22 institutions in Northern Ireland
  • the circumstances surrounding the sending of child migrants from Northern Ireland to Australia
  • the activities of the late Father Brendan Smyth

The Inquiry 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 second 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.

  • 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

Redress Board

A redress board has been established ad is fully operation which determines applications for compensation.

Almost 600 applications for compensation for historical institutional abuse have been received in the five months since the scheme opened.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said redress panels had so far made determinations to pay £4.1 million to applicants, with almost £2.2 million of that already paid.

570 applications had been received by the end of September.

Support service

A new support service for victims and survivors of institutional abuse will be operational by December.

The service will respond to individual requests for assistance such as welfare advice, health and well-being, social support and information.

A commissioner for Survivors

A commissioner for survivors of institutional child abuse has been appointed.

Fiona Ryan will take up the position for a five-year term from December.

ALC – partner at Hugh James in a submission to IICSA as part of its accountability and reparations investigation recommended that there should be a commissioner for survivors in England and Wales to ensure that their voice is heard, and for Parliament to be held to account in relation to them.


Also flowing from the inquiry work is under way for an apology and memorial.

These objectives will strike a chord with CSA survivors no matter where they are. The Australian Commonwealth government has recently announced in its budget financial provision for a national memorial for survivors. Apologies have been given by Australian prime minsters to survivors for the wrongs that they have suffered.

These are just two visible means of providing a form of accountability and reparation for survivors. Nevertheless what is striking is that they have come about because of a sea change attitude in society and government to CSA and the responsibility we have for society.

What has been achieved in Northern Ireland is extraordinary and is a testament to survivors, who have found the strength to tell their stories in order to educate us.

Author bio

Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.  Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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