This week, Northern Ireland’s institutional abuse inquiry examines one of the most notorious abusers, Fr Brendan Smyth. Reports yesterday included evidence that he told a doctor in 1994:
“Over the years of religious life, it could be that I’ve sexually abused between 50 and 100 children. That number could have been doubled, or perhaps even more.”
It also was revealed that the inquiry is recommending focused inquiry into Smyth’s activities. As the BBC reports:
The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry … recently added three more institutions to its list of investigation, as well as one individual – Smyth. This brings the total number of homes and matters to be investigated to 18.
I think this focus on Smyth is to be welcomed, but I hope it doesn’t overshadow other issues.
Smyth’s profile and reputation guarantees that he receives a lot of headlines, but visiting academic, Criminology professor Dr Kathleen Daly of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, also recommended that politicians at Stormont take responsibility for a victims redress scheme.
A report in the Belfast Telegraph compares redress schemes for victims of institutional abuse in both Australia and Canada, which could prove instructive in considering options for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland.
In Canada, the amount awarded is £28,500 and in Australia it is an average of £14,400. Also relevant is the fact that in Australia, where Churches are involved, they pay 55% and the State pays 45%.
The Canadian TRC finalised its report just this month, which includes a call for the Pope to publicly apologise to victims of abuse. And the Belfast Telegraph describes the Australian initiative this way:
[The] … Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse … is the most ambitious abuse inquiry ever held, perhaps the most ambitious public inquiry of any kind.
It is looking at an estimated 65,000 individuals who may be eligible for redress - cash compensation and lifelong counselling.
Of these, 7,000 are child migrants from the UK, including Northern Ireland, who were sent to Australia by the authorities.
Unlike our own institutional abuse inquiry in Banbridge, the Australian Commission examines abuse outside institutions. This could be relevant here because Kincora residents have claimed they were sent to meet men to be abused in their homes or hotels.
As the testimonies in Northern Ireland roll on, I hope the inquiry can also learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the similar processes in Australia and Canada.
(Image: Prof Daly)