A state inquiry into institutional and clerical child abuse in the North is almost inevitable, government sources said tonight.
A major probe similar to those which uncovered a shocking litany of historic crimes in the Republic was considered by ministers in Stormont’s power-sharing Cabinet this afternoon.
Afterwards one senior source said ministers agreed that decisive action was required.
“Ultimately it’s difficult to see anything other than a significant inquiry being held,” said the source.
Ministers will now examine what role their departments should play before the Executive makes a final decision on an inquiry.
“There was an acknowledgement that there’s a need to act with expediency on this issue,” the source added.
The Cabinet also looked at ways to ensure victims were supported and that measures are introduced to ensure the crimes of the past can never be repeated.
With a number of church dioceses bisecting the two jurisdictions in Ireland, the potential cross-border element of any future probe was also examined.
Calls for an inquiry have intensified this month following yet more revelations that senior church figures covered up abuse claims against Irish clerics.
Earlier, the chair of Stormont’s Health Committee said an official investigation should cost no more than £40m (€44.6m) and take no longer than five years to report.
Supporting calls for a probe north of the border, Jim Wells warned that lessons of the southern inquiries must also be learned.
The Health Committee discussed ways of tackling the legacy of historic abuse as the Executive meeting took place.
Last year the Ryan Commission unearthed a shameful catalogue of abuse against young people in state and church-run industrial schools south of the border.
But the inquiry cost almost €140m and took more than a decade to report.
“We couldn’t possibly justify that sort of expenditure and I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Mr Wells.
“I think a figure of between £30m (€33.4m) and £40m (€44.6m) is more than sufficient to cover this.
“Ryan also took 10 years to report – by the time that happens (in the North) a lot of people who were affected by that will be dead and that doesn’t serve any purpose.”
Mr Wells said a future inquiry in the North should be limited to between three and five years.
The Ryan Report detailed the endemic rape, beating and ritual humiliation of thousands of children in orphanages, borstals and reformatories run by religious orders, spanning back to the 1930s.
Six months after its publication, the Murphy Report into abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese uncovered further shocking revelations about paedophile priests.
Four out of five serving bishops named in the Murphy Report reluctantly offered their resignations after it emerged that hundreds of crimes against vulnerable children from the 1960s to the 1990s went unreported.
Politicians in the North examined the case for an inquiry as it emerged one of the priests involved in the recent cover-up allegations is to be moved out of his current parochial house in Strabane.
Father John McCullough paid £12,000 (€13,380) in an out-of-court settlement to an alleged victim nine years ago – however he made no admission of liability and never faced criminal charges.
His move from the parochial house comes after parish priest Father Declan Boland raised concerns he was not aware of the claims against Father McCullough.