Northern Ireland

HIA inquiry to examine Father Brendan Smyth crimes

Brendan Smyth Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Serial child abuser Brendan Smyth was convicted of dozens of offences

The crimes of the notorious paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth, will be examined at a public inquiry later.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) is looking at abuse allegations across a range of church, state and voluntary institutions.

The inquiry decided to investigate the late priest's activities following allegations made by numerous witnesses who have already given evidence.

They were residents at a number of former institutions being investigated.

Scandal

These institutions include Rubane House Boys Home, run by the De La Salle Order in Kircubbin, County Down, and two Sisters of Nazareth-run homes on the Ormeau and Ravenhill roads in Belfast.

Later this week, the inquiry will hear from a number of prominent members of the Catholic Church, including its former leader in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Smyth died of a heart attack in prison in August 1997

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic Church on both sides of the Irish border.

The Northern Ireland-born cleric was eventually convicted of more than 140 offences against children over a 40-year period.

Although allegations about him were investigated by church officials, including Cardinal Brady, as far back as 1975, it was almost 20 years before the priest was jailed.

Instead the cleric, a member of the Norbertine order, was moved between parishes, dioceses and even countries where he preyed on victims who were as young as eight.

As a priest in the Falls Road area of Belfast, he targeted four children from the same family. It was their courage in reporting the abuse to the police that led to his first conviction.

Extradited

In 1991, Smyth was arrested and released on bail, before spending the next three years out of the reach of police in Northern Ireland, when he stayed at his order's Kilnacrott Abbey in County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland.

His case led to the collapse of the Republic of Ireland's Labour/Fianna Fáil coalition government in 1994, when it emerged there were serious delays in his extradition to Northern Ireland.

When the priest finally appeared before a Belfast court, he was convicted of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in Northern Ireland and was sentenced to four years in prison.

He was later found guilty of another 26 charges and given a three-year sentence to run concurrently.

Upon his release from prison, Smyth was immediately arrested and extradited to the Republic of Ireland.

In 1997, the convicted paedophile again appeared before a judge - this time in Dublin - where he admitted to 74 charges of child sexual abuse over a 35-year period.

He had assaulted children in a hotel, a cinema, a convent and other venues across nine different counties.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is taking place at Banbridge courthouse

Smyth died of a heart attack in prison in August 1997, just a month into his 12-year prison sentence.

The 70-year-old was buried in private in a pre-dawn ceremony at Kilnacrott Abbey.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was set up in 2013 to investigate child abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland over a 73-year period, up to 1995.

It recently added three more institutions to its list of investigation, as well as one individual - Smyth. This brings the total number of homes and matters to be investigated to 18.

The inquiry is required to complete its hearings and all investigative work by mid-summer 2016, and has to submit its report to the Northern Ireland Executive by 17 January 2017.

Among its recommendations could be compensation for victims who have alleged they were abused.

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