Frequently asked questions

Updated 28-04-16

About the Statutory Inquiry

Who sits on the Inquiry Panel?

The Inquiry is chaired by Sir Anthony Hart.  There are two panel members: Geraldine Doherty and David Lane.

What is the Inquiry’s timeframe?

The Acknowledgement Forum completed its work in March 2015.

The Inquiry commenced its public evidence sessions at the former Banbridge Courthouse with an opening hearing on 13 January, 2014.  The Northern Ireland Executive initially stipulated that the Inquiry should conclude its investigation within two years and six months of the commencement of the legislation establishing its statutory powers, i.e. The Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.  The Inquiry Chairman has to provide his report to the Executive within six months of the Inquiry’s conclusion.

On 18 June 2014, the Chairman, Sir Anthony Hart, met with Ministers in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to seek an extension of one year to the date by which the Inquiry must submit its report.  This request was made to enable the Inquiry to have more time to complete its work.  This was subsequently granted through the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse (Amendment of Terms of Reference) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015, which came into operation on 11 February 2015. Under these amended Terms of Reference, the Inquiry is required to complete its hearings and all investigative work by July 2016, and publish its report on or before 18 January 2017, having delivered it to the First Minister and deputy First Minister at least two weeks before it is published.

Which institutions are being investigated?

The Northern Ireland First Minister and deputy First Minister announced the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry on 31 May 2012.  These were amended on 18 October 2012. The Terms of Reference permit the Inquiry to examine the actions of institutions which provided residential care for children, with the exception of schools, other than training schools and borstals during the period 1922-1995.  This includes institutions run by churches and religious denominations, as well as those run by central or local government, and those run by voluntary bodies or private sector organisations.

There are 22 institutions being investigated by the Inquiry, in relation to allegations of historical institutional abuse and/or neglect.  They are as follows:

Local Authority Homes

  • Lissue Hospital, Lisburn
  • Kincora Boys’ Home, Belfast
  • Bawnmore Children’s Home, Newtownabbey
  • Fort James and Harberton House, Londonderry (added May 2015)

Juvenile Justice Institutions

  • St Patrick’s Training School, Belfast
  • Lisnevin Training School, County Down
  • Rathgael Training School, Bangor 
  • Hydebank Young Offenders’ Centre (added May 2015)
  • Millisle Borstal (added November 2015)

Secular Voluntary Homes

  • Barnardo’s Sharonmore Project, Newtownabbey
  • Barnardo’s Macedon, Newtownabbey

Roman Catholic Voluntary Homes

  • St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca, Londonderry
  • Nazareth House Children’s Home, Londonderry
  • Nazareth House Children’s Home, Belfast
  • Nazareth Lodge Children’s Home, Belfast
  • De La Salle Boys’ Home, Rubane House, Kircubbin
  • St Joseph’s Training School for Girls, Middletown, Co Armagh (added November 2015)
  • Institutions run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Derry/Londonderry, Belfast and Newry (added November 2015)

Church of Ireland

Manor House, a children’s home near Lisburn (added November 2015)

The Inquiry is also investigating the migration of children from certain institutions in Northern Ireland to institutions in Australia. 

In addition, there are a small number of other homes or institutions where the Inquiry has identified specific issues which it considers needs to be investigated, but which do not justify being investigated in full-scale public hearings.  The Inquiry is carrying out a number of targeted and specific enquiries by requesting witness statements and gathering documents from those homes or institutions relating to the issues identified.  As the targeted investigations will not involve public hearings they can be accommodated within the Inquiry’s existing timetable.

Why is the Inquiry not investigating all institutions against which allegations have been made?

The Inquiry has given careful consideration to what it needs to do to fulfil its Terms of Reference within the required timeframe i.e. by mid-summer 2016.  It has considered the accounts given by every applicant who has made an allegation about a home or institution and carefully reviewed every one of the remaining homes that had not been the subject of a public hearing by the end of December 2015.  The Inquiry has decided the examination of the 22 homes or institutions listed above will be sufficient to provide a broad and complete understanding of the nature and extent of systemic failings, not just in those homes and institutions, but within all the types of homes and institutions that come under the Inquiry’s remit.

The decision not to hold a public hearing in respect of a home or institution does not mean that the Inquiry has decided that abuse did not occur in those locations.   It will also not have any effect on any recommendations that may be made for compensation or other forms of redress.  Any recommendations the Inquiry makes for any form of redress, including compensation, will apply to any person who was abused within a children’s home or other institution within its Terms of Reference, whether or not that home or institution was investigated by the Inquiry.



Why isn’t the Inquiry investigating clerical abuse, Magdalene laundries or mother and baby homes?

The remit of the Inquiry is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive.  On 20 November 2012, the Junior Minister for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, Jonathan Bell, told the Assembly:

.. the Executive will have to give careful consideration to how clerical abuse should be dealt with following the inquiry into historical institutional abuse.  ..  The categories to be covered by the inquiry were selected because of the very particular and vulnerable nature of that type of residential care.  Setting the parameters in that way does not, in any way, undermine the trauma that has undoubtedly been inflicted on many other individuals as a result of abuse in a domestic setting or any other setting. 

The Inquiry is not engaging in a wider investigation into what are commonly called Magdalene homes or laundries because those institutions contained adults and are therefore outside the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.  Nor will it investigate mother and baby homes but only those Good Shepherd convents (homes) where children who were placed there have made allegations of abuse. 


Jennifer McCann, the Junior Minister for the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister clarified the position when she stated on 7 September 2015:


The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was initiated by the 2009 Assembly debate about historical institutional abuse of children.  Its terms of reference refer to children under 18 years.  It was on that basis that the inquiry was designed and its chairperson and panel members appointed.  We are sensitive to the views of those who have suffered abuse who fall outside the scope of the current inquiry and we are mindful of the equally destructive impact that it has had on many people.  To consider amending the scope of the terms of reference at this stage would undermine the work that has already gone into reaching this critical juncture of the inquiry.  Officials have completed a scoping exercise in relation to mother and baby homes, the Magdalene laundries and clerical abuse, which we are presently giving careful consideration to.


In February 2016 the Northern Ireland Executive agreed that an inter-departmental working group chaired by the DHSSPS should be set up to consider these matters further.

How much will the Inquiry cost?

Taking account of the one year extension that has been granted to permit the Inquiry to complete its work, it is anticipated that the Inquiry is likely to cost between £17m and £19m.  Every effort is being made by the Inquiry to minimise its costs without in any way compromising the robust, comprehensive and fair approach which the Inquiry is taking with regard to its investigations.  Year on year the Inquiry has come in slightly under budget.


What support is being offered to witnesses?

The Inquiry is well aware that, for many victims and survivors, the process of recounting relevant events can be traumatic.  The Inquiry has its own Witness Support Officers who provide emotional support when applicants recount their experiences to the Acknowledgement Forum or give evidence to the Inquiry.  In addition, a wider support service has been established through the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  This service provides support and advice to victims and survivors of institutional abuse, offers counselling and can advise on a wide range of issues. It is being operated by Contact NI in partnership with Lifeline (Tel: 0808 808 8000) and Advice NI (HIA Support Service 028 9075 0131). 

The location of the Inquiry’s offices is not made public in order to help ensure that the participation of victims and survivors in the initial stages can be carried out as privately as possible.  The Inquiry asks that the media assists in this regard by not disclosing the location of its offices. 

Most witnesses were granted anonymity in advance of the start of the Statutory Inquiry.  However, at the commencement of their oral evidence session, they are given the opportunity to waive their anonymity, if they so wish.  Those witnesses who have been granted anonymity are protected by a legally-binding Restriction Order which is published on the Inquiry’s website. 

All reasonable travel expenses incurred by witnesses are reimbursed by the Inquiry.  Where witnesses cannot easily travel to the Inquiry’s offices arrangements to meet at an alternative location can be made.  Arrangements can also be made for those living outside Northern Ireland to travel back for interview or, where appropriate, be seen closer to home. 

How big is the Inquiry team?

At present 30 people are working on the Inquiry.  This includes the Chairman and the Inquiry Panel.  The Acknowledgement Forum Panel members have now completed their work and are not included in this total.

What legal powers does the Inquiry have?

The Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 grants the Inquiry statutory powers to allow it to:

  • compel witnesses living in Northern Ireland to come before the statutory inquiry or evidence held in Northern Ireland to be given to it;
  • take evidence under oath;
  • be effective and mindful of the public purse;
  • permit the public to observe the statutory inquiry proceedings but also, where necessary, to protect individual’s privacy by making restriction orders to limit attendance.

Who is legally representing the witnesses?

Victims and survivors are being represented by the Inquiry’s legal team at the public hearings held by the Statutory Inquiry.  Seven other interested parties have been granted core participant status, which means that they are expected to play a key role in assisting the Inquiry.  Each party has its own legal representatives.

Those organisations are as follows:

  1. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
  2. Department of Justice
  3. Health and Social Care Board
  4. Sisters of Nazareth
  5. De La Salle
  6. Barnardo’s
  7. Irish Church Missions

Other categories of witness may also have their own legal representatives, and details are available upon request. 

Only the Inquiry legal team questions witnesses at the hearings and they decide what questions will be put to witnesses.  No victim or survivors will be cross examined except with permission of the Chairman. The Chairman envisages that it will be extremely unusual for anyone else to be allowed to question a witness called by the Inquiry. 

Who will publish the Inquiry’s report?

The Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 requires the Inquiry to publish its own report.  This will be on or before 18 January 2017, and two weeks prior to publication the Inquiry must deliver the report to the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  The Ministers will not be able to make any changes.  The Forum report may also be published by the Inquiry alongside or as part of the Inquiry report.

What will the report contain?

The report will give an account of the investigation under each module of the hearings and make recommendations and findings on the following matters:

  • An apology - by whom and the nature of the apology;
  • Findings of institutional or state failings in their duties towards the children in their care and if these failings were systemic;
  • Recommendations as to an appropriate memorial or tribute to those who suffered abuse;
  • The requirement or desirability for redress to be provided by the institution and/or the Executive to meet the particular needs of victims.

However, the nature or level of any potential redress (financial or the provision of services) is a matter that the Executive will discuss and agree following receipt of the Inquiry and Investigation report.

Will the Inquiry produce an interim report?

The Inquiry will not publish an interim report.

On 4 November 2015, however, the Chairman announced that the Inquiry would conduct a targeted consultation, by way of a questionnaire, to all 524 applicants to gather further views and suggestions on redress.  The consultation period ran until 8 January 2016 and over 300 responded.  The Inquiry will consider these responses carefully, but does not anticipate making any further statements about redress until it presents its report to the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

It should be emphasised, however, that the final decision on redress as to whether there should be any form of redress, and what form it may take, are ultimately matters for the Northern Ireland Executive to decide.

What happens at the public hearings?

All the public (oral) hearings are held in the former Banbridge Courthouse, Victoria Street, Banbridge.  This is where witnesses appear before the Statutory Inquiry Panel to give their evidence.

The Inquiry sits most weeks from Monday to Thursday commencing at 10.00am and finishing around 4.30pm.  Dates and times are advertised on the Inquiry’s website and are updated on Fridays.  These sessions are open to the public to attend and observe. No food or hot drinks are permitted within the Chamber and all mobile phones should be switched off or placed on silent/vibrate.  No photography is permitted anywhere on the premises or within the perimeter fence.   Additionally, no interviews are permitted to take place within the perimeter of the Court premises.  

What is a closed session?

Sometimes, for legal reasons, it may be necessary for evidence to be heard in a closed session.  This means that only legal representatives and the Chairman and panel members may be present when a witness is giving evidence.  Closed sessions are not open to the public and the Chairman will usually announce in advance if a session is to be closed. 

Can I distribute literature at the public hearings?

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is independent and impartial.  Others are not permitted to distribute any leaflet, handbill or publication of any sort within the building or the perimeter fence.  No poster, advertisement or information may be displayed on a notice board or wall without the prior written consent of the Inquiry Secretary.

What if I hear or see something at the public hearings which upsets me?

The Inquiry recognises that some people may find these proceedings harrowing and have arranged for a qualified counsellor to be on site.  If you wish to talk with the counsellor, please ask any member of staff who will arrange this on your behalf.

Can I talk to my friends and family about what I hear at the public hearings?

Most witnesses have been granted anonymity in advance of the start of the Statutory Inquiry.  However, they are given the opportunity to waive their anonymity at the commencement of their oral evidence session, if they so wish.  Those witnesses who have been granted anonymity are protected by a legally-binding Restriction Order which is published on the Inquiry’s website.  This means that if you are attending the hearings to observe, you are prevented from naming individuals referred to during the proceedings.

How can I travel to the former Banbridge Court House?

Ulsterbus run regular services throughout Northern Ireland.  They can be contacted for route assistance on 028 90 66 66 30 or via their website on  The court house is within walking distance from the bus stop.  

There are a number of taxi firms based in Banbridge.  These include:  QCabs – 028 406 69300, Top Cabs – 028 40 626800, Bann Taxis – 028 40 624794.

Public car parking is available directly opposite the Court House to the rear of the Iveagh Picture House complex and elsewhere in the immediate vicinity.

What was the role of the Acknowledgement Forum?

The Acknowledgement Forum provided a place where victims and survivors could recount their experiences within institutions on a confidential basis.  The Forum operated as a separate body within the Inquiry but was accountable to, and under the chairmanship of the Inquiry Chairman.  

It was made up of a 4 person panel appointed by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  The Acknowledgement Forum Panel members were Beverley Clarke, Norah Gibbons, David Marshall and Tom Shaw.

The Acknowledgement Forum was open for applications from 1 October 2012 to 30 April 2014 and during this period 428 people came forward to speak to the Forum.  The Forum completed its work in March 2015 with the submission of its report to the Chairman.

Can I make a request to the Inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act?

Public inquiries are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  It is not possible therefore to make a request for information under this legislation, although the Inquiry endeavours to conduct its proceedings in an open and transparent manner, subject to respecting the privacy of individuals and the requirement for anonymity where that has been granted.

How do I make a complaint about the Inquiry?

If you are unhappy with the service you have received from the Inquiry there is a complaints procedure that you can follow. Complaints Procedure (PDF 67 KB)