BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland's High Court ruled on Tuesday that victims of sex abuse at a Belfast boys' home in the 1970s could try to force the British intelligence agency MI5 to answer allegations that it covered up the scandal.
The court granted a former resident of the Kincora Boys' Home a judicial review of a government decision to exclude Kincora from a London-based abuse inquiry with the power to force MI5 to testify.
Victims say boys were taken from the home to be sexually abused at the height of the Irish Republican Army's guerrilla campaign to end British rule over the province. They say MI5, which was monitoring the paramilitary groups active at the time, knew what was going on but turned a blind eye in order to gain leverage over those responsible.
Three men including Kincora housemaster William McGrath, a member of the Protestant paramilitary group Tara, were jailed in 1981, after allegations of abuse were aired in Dublin's Irish Independent newspaper.
But victims say their efforts to uncover the full extent of the sexual abuse at Kincora have been blocked. Amnesty International has long campaigned for a full public inquiry, calling Kincora "one of the biggest scandals of our age".
The British government wants the allegations to remain part of a wider inquiry into abuse in Northern Ireland institutions that has already begun.
But those abused at Kincora say that inquiry does not have the power to force MI5 to open up its records and make past and present intelligence officers give evidence.
The victims have the backing of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, who has expressed disappointment that Kincora is not already included in the wider inquiry to be chaired by New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard.
The judge said a substantive hearing in the judicial review should be completed before the summer recess.
(Reporting by Ian Graham; Editing by Conor Humphries and Kevin Liffey)