Abuse survivors’ advocate ‘has undeniable conflict of interests’

Survivors of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland have called for the resignation of their Stormont appointed advocate over his “leadership role” within the Catholic church.

Interim advocate Brendan McAllister addressing MLAs at Stormont
Interim advocate Brendan McAllister addressing MLAs at Stormont

Some victims’ groups have claimed that in qualifying to officiate at Catholic church services, Brendan McAllister will now be duty bound to represent the interests of the church – to the detriment of those who were abused by Catholic clergy.

Mr McAllister was appointed interim advocate for HIA by the head of the civil service in July last year in the absence of a Stormont Executive.

Margaret McGuckin, of lobby group SAVIA (Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse), has stated that Mr McAllister’s personal religious beliefs are of no consequence, but said that his elevation within the church means his position as a victims’ advocate is no longer tenable.

“His loyalty has to lie with the Roman Catholic church, not us,” she said.

Ms McGuckin added: “He is trying to be both poacher and gamekeeper, but he can’t have leadership roles in both camps. Eighty per cent of our members have been affected by the Catholic church.”

The victims’ groups spoke out after Mr McAllister – who has been in training to become a church deacon – donned clerical dress to officiate at a weekend service in St Peter’s Warrenpoint.

Claire McKeegan, a solicitor acting for a number of abuse survivors, said it “came as a complete shock” that Mr McAllister accepted a leadership role within the church during his tenure as the victims’ advocate.

Ms McKeegan said: “Once someone becomes a deacon ... they become a member of the Catholic clergy. They have to take an oath to defend the Catholic church. This is a man on that journey. This is a man who has an undeniable conflict of interests.

“Our clients were assured, by the head of the Civil Service and his officials, that the interim advocate would not be taking up any part of his ministry as a deacon until after his role as interim advocate had ended.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has also expressed concern that Mr McAllister is being seen in the community as a Catholic church representative, while the abuse survivors and the NI Executive are seeking a financial contribution from the Catholic church towards the abuse survivors’ compensation.

“Anyone looking in on this would say his position is not tenable. There are other people who can keep things ticking over while the recruitment process for the full-time commissioner takes place,” Ms Bradshaw said.

Representatives of two other survivors’ groups have also said Mr McAllister has a conflict of interests.

However, John McCourt of Survivors North West has spoken out in support of the interim victims’ advocate.

He told BBC’s Talkback programme: “I have absolutely no concerns at all. Brendan McAllister will not be ordained until 2021. There is nothing in what Brendan McAllister is doing as a trainee deacon ... that has been brought into any meeting that I have attended with Brendan McAllister in the last 12 months.”

In a statement, Mr McAllister said he has been “assisting with liturgy ... in a parish setting,” and added: “From the time of my appointment as interim advocate senior officials of the Executive Office have been aware that I have been preparing for future ministry in the Catholic Church. The leaders of all five HIA victims groups have also been aware and have previously expressed their good wishes.”

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