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Primate “taken aback” by victims’ claim he fobbed them off

By Sarah Mac Donald - 29 September, 2016

Archbishop Eamon Martin. (Photo: RTE)

Archbishop Eamon Martin. (Photo: RTE)

The Primate of All Ireland has said he was “somewhat taken aback” by comments reported from a Stormont committee regarding his meeting last July with survivors of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

In a statement on Wednesday, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he had asked for and hosted the meeting in Armagh with Margaret McGuckin and Jon McCourt.

It was also attended by Professor Patricia Lundy of Ulster University and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International.

The Archbishop of Armagh said the sentiments which the two victims made which were critical of him in their address to the Northern Assembly’s Executive committee on Wednesday were not conveyed to him at the time of the meeting or at any time since.

He also highlighted that the statement published by the group immediately after the meeting last July did not reflect the issues reported on Wednesday. See here

Jon McCourt of Survivors North West and Margaret McGuckian of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) said that when they met Archbishop Martin they felt “belittled” at the meeting.

They added that they got the impression that the Primate felt the Catholic Church was the victim rather than the survivors.

“The Church, I think, just literally fobbed us off and in fact there was a point where both Margaret and I were going to get up and leave the meeting because we were more or less told that if the church hadn’t done what it done in the ’50s or ’60s things could have been a lot worse for us,” Jon McCourt said.

However, in his statement yesterday, Archbishop Martin said he sought the July meeting as he was motivated to “hear directly from survivors regarding their views about redress”.

“I did this notwithstanding the fact that the decision to establish any Redress Scheme will be a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, and this in turn will be guided by the outcomes of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, when it concludes its work.”

Elsewhere in his statement, the Archbishop said that he appreciated that there are deep emotions related to this most sensitive and serious of issues.

“I have always maintained that the Catholic Church must fully accept its responsibilities to those who have suffered abuse. The Church recognises the need for a compassionate, pastoral and proper response to redress in the context of historical institutional abuse.”

He added, “Abuse not only damages lives, past and present, but it also casts a long dark shadow which can obscure the light of the Gospel.”

Dr Martin said he had the “greatest of respect” for Margaret [McGuckian] and Jon [McCourt], and for those who, like them, have bravely come forward to share their stories and who have advocated on behalf of others.”

He pledged to continue to do his best to communicate their concerns to all with leadership responsibilities in the Church, and to attempt to do so in a spirit of compassion and concern.

The Historic Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry is examining allegations of child abuse in children’s homes and other residential institutions in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995.

It began its hearings in January 2014 and is scheduled to report to the Northern Ireland Executive in January 2017.

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