Victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland have been told they were failed by the state during a long-awaited public apology at Stormont.
Survivors watched on in the Assembly chamber as a minute’s silence was held before five ministers, representing each of the main Stormont parties, offered their apology on behalf of the Government.
DUP education minister Michelle 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.
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“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.”
Alliance Party justice minister Naomi Long said “No-one can undo the past; nor can we undo your past.
Margaret McGuckin became the face of the campaign for an inquiry
“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.
“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.”
SDLP infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon said “We hope that our clear and outright acknowledgement will bring some relief.
“The guilt and shame of what happened is not, nor has it ever been, your burden to bear.
“The burden belongs only to us; those who should have protected you.”
Robin Swann said ‘what happened to each and every one of you was wrong’
Ulster Unionist health minister Robin Swann said: “What happened to each and every one of you was wrong.
“It should not have happened and it is critical that every possible step is taken to ensure that nothing like this happens to any other child in the care of the state – ever again.”
Delivering the final apology, Sinn Fein finance minister Conor Murphy said: “You, and all victims and survivors, deserve nothing less than full acknowledgement of the harm inflicted on you as children, and the suffering you have endured throughout your lives as a result of our failures.
“You deserve to be supported in the right way, as recommended by Sir Anthony Hart.”
Representatives from six organisations, which ran the institutions, are also set to apologise.
They speak 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 scandal was told on film in 2002’s The Magdalene Sisters
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.