Naomi Long MP calls for the Government to temporarily suspend the Officials Secret Act to reveal intelligence service cover-ups of sexual abuse.
Though the Troubles saw many shocking episodes, allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of vulnerable young people by those in positions of power, and the failure to ensure claims were properly investigated at the time is surely a low point.
Whether directed towards the state or the republican movement, some placed the protection of their institutions and cause ahead of those being abused. In doing so, they compounded the hurt. But the voices silenced at the time are now being heard again, with an opportunity to listen, respond and make amends for previous failures.
In my own constituency, despite it being over 30 years since the successful prosecution of three members of staff at Kincora Boys’ Home for child sex abuse, even murkier and more disturbing allegations persist.
It’s not simply that paedophiles operated there or even that authorities were neglectful towards those placed in their custody. But rather, it is alleged a conscious decision was made to allow abuse to continue for over 10 years after it was first uncovered, both to protect informers and to gather information on abusers to be used for blackmail, while subsequent investigations were hindered. Those who attempted to shine a light on what was happening and to challenge the alleged cover-up were even prosecuted for breaking the Official Secrets Act. The three jailed members of staff are sadly believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.
These allegations have been brought to the fore again recently with the launch by the Home Office of an inquiry into institutional abuse in care homes around the UK. With the lifting of the lid on other cases of institutional abuse and in a context where the voices of victims appear finally to be being heard, those affected by Kincora have also come forward with additional information of what happened at that time.
Whilst the allegations centre on Kincora, suspicions remain that it was far from limited to that home, with claims that boys were brought from other care homes to be abused there, as well as being taken out to be abused by those outside the care system.
If, as stated by the Government yesterday, Kincora is not to be included in the Home Office inquiry, I would like to see a separate, independent inquiry with statutory powers to be established and Kincora to be included in it. That now appears to be the only way the victims and survivors of the home will gain the justice they deserve.
A parallel investigation by the Northern Ireland Assembly into institutional abuse does not have sufficient powers to investigate Kincora due to the level of those accused of wrongdoing, a fact acknowledged by its chair Sir Anthony Hart. Without the power to compel evidence from Whitehall, this inquiry is not the correct vehicle for full exposure of the truth about what went on behind the door of the unassuming house less than a mile from my constituency office. While the welfare of children is a devolved matter to Northern Ireland, the security services are not.
In order to allow witnesses and whistle-blowers to give evidence, the Official Secrets Act also needs to be temporarily suspended so those who can substantiate allegations of intelligence service cover-up can assist the inquiry without fear of prosecution themselves. Whatever files the security services have need to be made accessible to the inquiry without repercussions.
Knicora did not exist in a bubble – some of those convicted of child sex offences in Britain also worked in the Northern Ireland care system and whilst never convicted for offences here, their activities need to be scrutinised. Predators had no respect for borders or geography when it came to vulnerable young people, so why should any investigation into their activities?
The children of Kincora were often traumatised, isolated and left stigmatised by wider society. Like so many victims of abuse, they were treated as unreliable, unstable or untrustworthy when they made their claims. Many are still struggling to adjust today with the effects their ordeal had on them, with the recent publicity generated by the home once again being in the spotlight reopening many old wounds.
We have a duty to ensure the whole truth of what happened at Kincora Boys’ Home is finally properly investigated and the victims receive justice. We owe the victims and survivors nothing less.