Junior minister Martina Anderson has said the abuse of children in institutions run by the Catholic church and state caused more damage than the legacy of imperialism.
The Stormont minister made the comment as the Executive voted to establish a statutory inquiry into historical institutional abuse.
Yesterday’s meeting was the first time the Executive has met to discuss a single issue, apart from the budget.
Over the summer, junior ministers Ms Anderson and Jonathon Bell, met with a range of groups, including victims and survivors of abuse, in order to help establish how the inquiry should be conducted. They also met with the Attorney Generals in the north and south, officials from the Department of Justice, and individuals who were involved in the Ryan Report into clerical sex abuse in the south.
Martin McGuinness, while Deputy First Minister, also met with a Papal delegation, to discuss historical child abuse.
After the meeting, Executive members met with survivors of institutional abuse, including Derry man, Jon McCourt, to discuss the terms of the inquiry.
Ms Anderson said the inquiry will require “bespoke legislation” which would compel people to co-operate with the probe.
An interdepartmental task force had previously suggested that a non-statutory inquiry would be the best way to deal with cases of historical institution abuse.
However, Ms Anderson said ministers felt a statutory inquiry was necessary. “Jonathon and I met the Attorney General here and it became clear that there needed to be a statutory element to it.
“The power to compel is crucially important. We have come to the conclusion that without that powerm, the institutions and those who have got documents and information relating to what happened may not be forthcoming,” she said.
Ms Anderson also said the legislation required for such an inquiry could take up to 18 months. “We put forward a proposal for a bespoke piece of legislation in the Assembly so we don’t have to refer to current legislation which can only go back as far as 1972.
“We are looking for bespoke legislation which would enable us to have the power to compel people and get access to whatever relevant documents to help the process.
“It is going to have to go through the Assembly and that could take a year and a half in order to get the best piece of legislation we can get,” she explained.
But Ms Anderson insisted that the process would not be delayed. “The non statutory element would involve a kind of ‘truth forum’ where victims can tell their story and be listened to. That would run parallel to the legislative process,” she said.
The Foyle MLA also said the inquiry will be centered around the needs of victims. “They are not on trial. It will not be over-lawyered or adversorial. We do not want to further traumatise the victims,” she said.
Ms Anderson also compared clerical and institutional child abuse and its subsequent cover up to collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and state forces. “We have talked about collusion and challenged British collusion and proved that it was not an illusion. This is also collusion in terms of what the Church have done to children.
“We look at the damage imperialism has done to so many countries that had limited protection.
“When we look at the impact of imperialism, I think this abuse is compared to it in the extent of the depth of the problem and has done more damage,” the Foyle MLA said.