Inter-Departmental Working Group Update – July 2019

July 2019

The Inter-Departmental Working Group (IDWG) met on 02 July 2019. This was the first meeting of the Group following the appointment of Peter McBride, as the new independent Chair to the Group, on 03 June 2019. 

Agenda / Topics discussed

Research on Mother and Baby Homes / Magdalene Laundries

Professor Sean O’Connell and Dr Leanne McCormick, the lead researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, provided the Group with an overview of the findings from the research which they had been commissioned to undertake in November 2017. Prof O’Connell and Dr McCormick highlighted that this was one of the more difficult and complex research projects undertaken by the Universities outlining some of the key challenges faced, including: the number of institutions and the level and complexity involved; a lack of co-operation from a key campaign group and consequently individuals being discouraged from participating in the research; access to records.

The researchers confirmed that they will complete all final updates to the research report over the remainder of the month of July and will deliver the final draft research report by 31 July 2019. The Group agreed that a further meeting should be scheduled toward the end of August / start of September to allow for consideration and any follow up discussion and questions on the research from the Departments represented on the IDWG.

Consultation and engagement

Peter McBride set out his intention to be open, transparent, visible and accessible in his role as chair. This led to a discussion about the publication of the research report and minutes of meetings of IDWG. Members agreed ‘in principle’ that, subject to their review of the report during August and early September and to internal permissions within Departments by Permanent Secretaries, the research report could potentially be published at the end of September. In terms of minutes of meetings, it was agreed that a communique relating to each meeting would be produced, agreed by members and published after meetings of the IDWG going forward.

Historical Clerical Child Abuse

Gareth Johnston, Director of Equality, Victims, Human Rights and Delivering Social Change in The Executive Office, provided an overview of the progress of work on Historical Clerical Child Abuse and the difference between this area and the research on historic Mother and Baby Homes / Magdalene Laundries.

The Group agreed that the level and jurisdiction of state involvement would have to be determined in circumstances where abuse happened in private homes and churches.  The Group was reminded of the Amnesty International reports in this area.

The Group discussed the potential areas to be addressed as part of research on Historical Clerical Child Abuse, including: potential sources of data; the level of state involvement; the adequacy of services for victims of historical abuse; the extent to which lessons have been learned from safeguarding work done over the past years/decade/s; and what should be done in terms of a public acknowledgement to reflect what has happened.

The Group discussed in more detail the difficulties that might be faced by researchers in accessing data or evidence in individual incidents of Historical Clerical Child Abuse.

There was a discussion about the inclusion of schools in the work of the Group relating to Historical Clerical Child Abuse.

The Group agreed that this would require further consideration.

Peter McBride advised that he wanted to meet with representatives from the Churches in Northern Ireland as part of his initial round of meetings following his appointment as independent Chair to the Group.

IDWG - Terms of reference review

An updated terms of reference will be discussed at the next meeting of the IDWG. Gareth Johnston agreed to review and where necessary update section 6 of the draft terms of reference to reflect a one year work programme combining procurement and research phases for the remit of work to be taken forward by the Group on Historical Clerical Child Abuse.

Work Plan

The Group agreed that a single work plan should be drawn up comprising both strands of work of the Group: historic Mother and Baby Homes / Magdalene Laundries and Historical Clerical Child Abuse for discussion and agreement at the next meeting of the IDWG. It was also agreed that a communication plan would be developed.

Peter McBride informed the Group, he would provide a more detailed update following his meetings over the Summer months and he would report to the Group as candidly as possible on the ‘mood’ of the public and convey their views, willingness and preferences to become engaged and involved with the Group.

In terms of meaningful engagement, the Group discussed the potential for workshops / seminars to be organised to facilitate engagement from individuals, groups and organisations. They discussed the potential for these to test and interrogate the research. The Group agreed that these workshops / seminars would be challenging to host and consideration would have to be given to the numbers and potential vulnerability of participants at each workshop / seminar.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting of the IDWG will be scheduled toward the end of August / start of September.

More information and updates on the work of the IDWG can be found on the Department of Health website.

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