Bernadette McAliskey speaks out against child abuse in the Six Counties. This article first appeared in the Irish News, 20th January 2010.

As a matter of urgency — before this pretence of a democratic, secular and modern administration unravels itself in abject disgrace, it needs to exercise its responsibility for protection of children and young people, and initiate an investigation into sexual abuse and exploitation in this jurisdiction, and the role of organisations in protecting perpetrators or failing to protect victims.

The period covered should possibly be since partition — as there are people alive who were children when the jurisdiction was created — but most definitively from the 1960s to the present, the longest period of protracted and violent political conflict.

Allegations buried in the haze

Allegations now in the public domain add to previous allegations buried in the haze of the Troubles and reflect an enduring culture of corruption, an ‘appalling vista’ of arrogance and abuse that underpins the tolerance of the abuse of children (and women) to protect the structures of authority. That this is not confined to Sinn Fein does not lessen their responsibility.

There is something singularly distasteful about the glee with which Gerry Adams is currently being pursued, pilloried by his opponents, and hung out to dry by his party, while society contents itself with texting trivial and dubious jokes on this subject and on the ‘Robinson affair’.

It is as if by removing a few symbolic heads the party, the political system and society can purge itself and the matter can be buried again. Where is the routine and popular chorus of demands for a public inquiry from any part of this segregated society? Is it silenced by tacit grassroots knowledge of the enormity of the iceberg whose tip stands exposed?

Is every victim expected to individually bare their trauma and pain — without support, protection or remedy — to the mercy of a voyeuristic media or the individual integrity of a few probing journalists willing to listen?

Are the accused to be tried, convicted or exonerated in the media, depending on who has the best spin-doctors, which journalist has the deepest motive, largest budget, the most integrity or the least to lose? Are the weakest and most vulnerable to be sacrificed yet again on the altar of political horse-trading and expediency?

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, political executive and assembly share the power and responsibility to immediately establish an investigation into the degree to which those in positions of authority within the Church, state, political, military, paramilitary and voluntary organisations have protected the abuser rather than the abused, and to appropriately hold those responsible to account.

All this is more pressing than whether the United Kingdom government runs the Police Service of Northern Ireland directly from London or through its subsidiary administration in Belfast. The commission of inquiry could comprise the Human Rights Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner and, not one, but four Victims’ Commissioners. They have at their disposal a legal infrastructure for individual remedy and restitution as appropriate. Why is it not already happening? Is this society willing, yet again, to settle for political expediency and a few scalps?

Corruption and protectionism

If there is any integrity or courage left in this place, we need to take a stand against the political corruption and protectionism that is the hallmark of politics here, starting with an inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in Northern Ireland. Protecting the last illusions of serving Faith and Fatherland, Mother Ireland and the glorious dead is a shallow excuse for betrayal of the innocents. To quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ‘there is something rotten in the state…’