A long-awaited public apology to the victims of historical institutional abuse has been made at Stormont.
Survivors watched on in the Assembly chamber as a minute’s silence was held before ministers offered an apology on behalf of the powersharing Executive.
The apology was delivered by five ministers, representing each of the main parties, in the absence of a first and deputy first minister.
Michelle McIlveen, Conor Murphy, Nichola Mallon, Robin Swann and Naomi Long made the apology after Paul Givan resigned earlier this year, which also removed Michelle O’Neill from the joint office.
Alliance Party justice minister Naomi Long said that the Assembly chamber at Stormont was a “fitting and proper venue” for the apology to victims of historical institutional abuse.
She said: “This is where our laws are made, where we – ministers and those responsible for governing – are held to account. We are united in our acceptance of responsibility.
“No-one can undo the past; nor can we undo your past.”
Mrs Long continued: “We acknowledge your desire to make sure that future generations of children will never have to suffer the abuse you experienced – we echo that desire and it is our job to make sure that does not happen.
“The late Sir Anthony Hart rightly welcomed the ‘courage and determination’ of victims and survivors.
“Your courage and determination led to a report that made government and society reflect upon how it treated its most vulnerable and on the harms they endured.
“Some 13 years after you first came to Parliament Buildings, the courage and determination of all of you means that you are sitting here today listening closely to what is being said.
“We pay tribute to your courage and determination, and to your staying power.”
DUP education minister Michelle McIlveen has said that victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland were failed by the state.
Delivering the first in a series of ministerial apologies to victims and survivors at Stormont, Ms McIlveen said: “Today, we say that we are sorry.
“Whilst in the care of the state you were made vulnerable – we did not ensure all our residential homes were filled with love and safety.
“We did not ensure these homes were all free from hunger and cold, from mistreatment and abuse.
“It was the state’s responsibility to do that, and it failed you.
“We neglected you, rejected you, we made you feel unwanted. It was not your fault. The state let you down.”
Ms McIlveen added: “We recognise that, as adults now and survivors of historical institutional abuse, you carry the effects of that suffering and its continued impact on your daily life.
“We apologise to you for the trauma inflicted upon you as children whilst in the care of the state. We are sorry.”
The Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse Fiona Ryan has acknowledged the pain and suffering of all historical institutional abuse victims and survivors in Northern Ireland.
Speaking in the Stormont Assembly chamber, she paid tribute to all who had campaigned for an inquiry into historical institutional abuse.
She said: “Let us be clear why we are here today and what is being apologised for.
“We are talking about the systemic abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect of children for decades in residential institutions in Northern Ireland.
“For this abuse to succeed on this scale requires not only individual abusers and institutions to perpetrate the abuse, but failed oversight and accountability on the part of the public authorities.”
Ms Ryan then called for a minute’s silence for victims who died before the apology was delivered.
Representatives from six organisations, which ran the institutions, offered an apology.
They spoke for religious orders De La Salle, Sisters of Nazareth, Sisters of St Louis and the Good Shepherd Sisters – as well as Barnardo’s and the Irish Church Missions.
The public apology was recommended in the final report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI), which was published more than five years ago.
Inquiry chair Sir Anthony Hart outlined a series of recommendations after he revealed shocking levels of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the period 1922 to 1995.
The recommendations included that those abused in state, church and charity run homes should be offered compensation as well as an official apology from government and the organisations which ran the residential facilities where it happened – and a memorial.