Church abuse inquiry to be launched

A major inquiry into the abuse of children in institutions run by the Catholic Church and the state is to be launched in Northern Ireland, it has been announced.

The Stormont Executive confirmed the probe will be phased-in over the next two years and will be armed with the power to compel the release of records plus the co-operation of witnesses.

First Minister Peter Robinson and acting deputy First Minister John O'Dowd announced the details of the plan, which follows a study of the issue by a task force set-up last December.

Victims of sexual and physical abuse have recounted harrowing tales of their treatment. The Northern Ireland government's plan of action follows inquiries in the Irish Republic which have uncovered shocking evidence of widespread abuse by Catholic clergy.

The Northern Ireland probe will require special legislation to provide the statutory powers needed to investigate historic cases of abuse.

And while it is estimated it could take two years to pass the necessary legal framework, the Stormont leaders have also announced immediate steps.

Mr Robinson said: "This inquiry will be given the necessary statutory powers to compel people and documents. We will be taking forward legislation in the Assembly to confer statutory powers on the Inquiry and Investigation into Historical Institutional Child Abuse.

"It could take up to two years before the legislation is complete; however, this will not delay the Investigation and Inquiry's work."

Margaret McGuckin and John McCourt, who have been leading voices among the victims and survivors, welcomed the announcement.

Ms McGuckin said: "They have listened to us. They have listened to how important it is that records do be found and (that) it is a proper investigation that will help all victims."

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