The Northern Ireland government has issued a formal apology to victims of abuse in orphanages and children’s homes.
Ministers from all five political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly read out apologies to survivors gathered at the Stormont government buildings near Belfast.
Representatives of six institutions where the abuse took place also publicly said sorry to those who were harmed.
“We neglected you, rejected you, we made you feel unwanted,” said Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, from the Democratic Unionist Party. “It was not your fault. The state let you down.”
The formal apology came more than five years after it was recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
The years-long inquiry found shocking levels of physical, sexual and mental abuse at institutions run by the state, churches and charities between 1922 — when Northern Ireland was founded as a state — and 1995.
Northern Ireland launched an investigation following similar probes in the Republic of Ireland, which found that the Irish Catholic Church covered-up child abuse by its officials for decades.
In Northern Ireland, abuse was also recorded at institutions run by Catholic and Protestant religious groups and the Barnardo’s children’s charity.
Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy acknowledged on Friday that the apology was too long in coming.
“We should have protected you and we did not. We are sorry,” he said. “You were harmed by those who should have cared for you. We are sorry.”
“You told the truth, yet you were not believed. We are sorry. We are responsible. And we are so very, very sorry.”
Northern Ireland is holding a separate inquiry into abuses at homes for unmarried mothers and their babies.