The northern Executive has set March 11 as the date for a public apology to former residents in institutions in the region who suffered abuse.
Today’s announcement marks the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Hart Report, which made a number of recommendations, including a public apology.
The inquiry examined the period 1922-1995, and found there had been widespread and systemic abuse at institutions.
The chair, the late Sir Anthony Hart also recommended a permanent memorial.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill will deliver the apology in Parliament Buildings in Belfast on behalf of the Executive. There will also be statements made by representatives of relevant institutions found by the Inquiry to have been responsible for systemic failings.
Announcing the date today (Thursday), First Minister Paul Givan said: “Victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse have our full support, and we are determined they will receive the acknowledgement, support, and redress they deserve.
“Our priority remains approaching an apology with care and sensitivity, and basing it upon the experience of victims and survivors,” he said.
Margaret McGuckin, from the group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA), said the announcement was “welcome” but had been a “very long time coming”.
“It’s unfortunate so many people who wanted an apology have gone to their graves blaming themselves and will never hear the words: ‘It wasn’t your fault, it was our fault.’”
Mr Givan said that since the publication of the report five years ago the priority has been to provide practical support for victims and survivors.
This included establishing in legislation the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board, the appointment of a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse, and the health and wellbeing support services delivered by the Victims and Survivors Service.
The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Historical institutional abuse should never have happened. While no apology will make up for the shameful failures, and the pain that victims and survivors have endured as a result, we owe it to them to acknowledge the harm they suffered.
“We recognise that there are many different views on the public apology. We are announcing the date in advance as we want victims and survivors to have an opportunity to tell us their views on the arrangements and content of the apology,” she said.
Ms O’Neill described the apology as “an important moment but said the Executive understands “it will be an incredibly difficult and emotional day for many.
The needs of victims and survivors are at the heart of this and we are working to ensure that we have the right support in place – before, during, and after the apology is made,” she said.
Days after the Hart Report was published, the power-sharing executive at Stormont collapsed – leaving Northern Ireland without a government for three years.
The Executive Office announced that the apology will be accessible to all who wish to view it, however, numbers in Parliament Buildings will be limited due to the ongoing public health situation.
The HIA inquiry report highlighted that an apology can be viewed as formal recognition by government, or by a public authority, or by an institution, that they, or their predecessors, made mistakes in the way they treated the children in their care. The report recommended that an apology should be done on a single occasion at a suitable venue.
A review is currently being carried out into the financial redress scheme.
It’s understood Stormont officials have heard several different views from survivors about the value and timing of an apology.