Anthony McIntyre ponders a serious breach of data protection in the North.
As if Covid-19 and its prolonged ripple effect on daily life was not enough to cope with in 2020, the year has proved a dispiriting one for institutional abuse victims in the North. No strangers to disappointment and let down, they have already this year been dealt a double blow by authority.
The first came in February when Boris Johnson fired from his cabinet the North’s Secretary of State, Julian Smith. In the light of what we now know about the infidelity to public duty so brazenly and contemptuously displayed by Dominic Cummings the decision to have sacked Smith, even more than it did at the time, smacks of vindictive political revenge executed because Smith failed to echo the obligatory Westminster deference of Yes Prime Minister.
The tenacity with which Johnson has battled to retain his wayward chief advisor, a man now widely regarded as an unremitting liar seriously deficient in redeeming attributes, has placed in full public view the arrogant Tory Toff disdain for the public. What say you old chap - the smelly plebs are up in arms because they can't see the value of double standards. They should go to Specsavers.
Which is where Cummings should have went rather than Barnard Castle, but that's another matter.
The way in which Smith, a politician who won the admiration of many in the North for the political dexterity he brought to the job, and who for survivors of institutional abuse, was a “guardian angel” is a salutary lesson, suggesting that there remains one Tory blood sport in need of banning.
For those who have been campaigning for justice, Julian’s brief time in Belfast should be remembered for championing our struggle. Julian did more to ensure survivors of sexual and physical abuse in state-funded institutions got recompense and recognition than any other politician over many years.
The words of Margaret McGuckin who chairs the SAVIA Lobby Group, and who since the 2008 release of the Ryan Report on clerical abuse has been “campaigning for an inquiry into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.”
Not of her own volition, Ms McGuckin has been in the news again. On this occasion to vehemently protest a second blow to victims which came at the weekend when “the names and emails of 250 abuse survivors were revealed in a monthly newsletter of the body set up to investigate their claims and compensate the victims.”
It was a seeminlgy serious administrative error on the part of the office of the Interim Victim’s Commissioner, Brendan McAllister. People who had every right to anonymity saw that right vanish with the tap of a send email key. Those exposed had been part of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry which had been set up “to investigate widespread allegations of historic sexual and physical abuse at 22 institutions run by religious, charitable and state bodies in Northern Ireland for more than 70 years.”
No one is blaming McAllister directly or ascribing malign intent to him but that has not prevented a furore swelling. Although he has apologised for the actions of his office, that has failed to stymie anger. The Unionist MLA, Doug Beattie, went as far as to call for the resignation of McAllister:
It is clear that Brendan McAllister should accept responsibility for this data breach and stand down. If he does not, then the executive office [devolved government] must take action to remove him from post and immediately begin the process to appoint a HIA commissioner, a process that should have been started in November 2019. Victims must come first in all we do, and establishing and maintaining confidence and trust is at the heart of helping victims … if there is no confidence and no trust, we are failing victims.
This is a view echoed by Margaret McGuckin who explained to the The Pensive Quill how those left marooned on an island of publicity as a result of the leak felt:
One let down after another, coming against HIA victims. Julian Smith was like a saviour coming their way, an answer to prayer almost! He was man enough to stand up for victims and honest enough to continue on his promises of bringing legislation through Westminster. Now, just at the start of the Redress Scheme Panel opening and issuing payments for HIA victims who have waited a LIFETIME for some form of justice, a government figure and one supposed to be their Advocate, Brendan McAllister, has let them down terribly for not over-seeing proper protocols from his office and staff, who have sent this leaflet out to 250 Abuse victims with their confidential details, names and email addresses for all to see.
A clear breach of Data Protection of the most vulnerable people in society which has set them back mentally and emotionally, as they cry out for help trying to understand why now this could happen to them once again.
Grown men who contacted me in confidence told me off their rape and abuse whilst in "care" and I reassured them that no one would ever know of their names, that they would be helped in the highest degree of Confidentiality and never would they be exposed to the public.
Well, this is exactly what had happened. They are inconsolable, angry, and traumatised all over again. And we, SAVIA Lobby Group, and Claire McKeegan, our Solicitor and friend, are left to comfort and to listen to their cries for help and to try to make them understand what and how and why. This has been yet another attack on their personal being yet again.
This will have to be resolved. They have absolutely no faith in the Interim Advocate and want his resignation immediately. The HIA Commissioner proper should be in place. Legislation was passed through Westminster last November for this to happen and we are still waiting. HoCS David Sterling must see that this happens immediately.
The American writer, Wendell Berry, has stated: “Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.”
Is that so? Excuse the victims of abuse for not knowing that such things exist.
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