Northern Ireland abuse victims edge closer to getting compensation

North’s parties give Karen Bradley go-ahead to bring in Westminster redress legislation

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley is ‘determined to do everything in her power to ensure that the victims and survivors get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible’. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley is ‘determined to do everything in her power to ensure that the victims and survivors get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible’. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

The prospect of victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland finally receiving compensation has moved a step closer after the North’s six main parties agreed a process to see legislation implemented through Westminster.

Senior representatives from the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance and Greens met the head of the Northern Ireland civil service David Sterling on Wednesday to agree a way forward.

They decided on changes to draft legislation relating to compensation for an estimated 500 victims. The six party leaders now are to formally write to Northern Secretary Karen Bradley confirming that they support legislation to compensate victims being enacted at Westminster.

In January 2017 retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, in a detailed report after a long inquiry found there was evidence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and unacceptable practices across 22 Catholic and Protestant and state- run homes.

Sir Anthony recommended that survivors of abuse should receive lump sum payments ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 depending on the severity of the abuse.

His report, however, coincided with the collapse of the Northern Executive and Assembly in January 2017 with the result that there was no Executive in place to implement the payments. Since then survivors’ representatives have claimed that the British government has been using the issue of compensation as a bargaining chip to try to compel the Northern parties to strike a deal to reinstate the powersharing institutions.

It is estimated that in the past two and a half years more than 30 victims of abuse have died while waiting for some form of financial redress.

The onus now will be on Northern Secretary Ms Bradley to move the legislation at Westminster.

Assembly member Linda Dillon of Sinn Féin, which on other matters opposes Westminster acting on normally devolved matters, said “all the parties are on the same page”.

“The British government needs to move expeditiously to bring forward legislation and ensure that victims receive the redress they are long entitled to,” she said.

Ulster Unionist Party MLA, Mike Nesbitt said that “all obstacles have been removed” to Ms Bradley introducing legislation to assist the victims.

He said all six parties prioritised the “need to present a united front for the benefit of the victims and survivors over party political reservations”.

“It was a good day for victims and survivors of institutional abuse, and an encouraging day for devolution,” said Mr Nesbitt.

Alliance MLA Paul Bradshaw welcoming the development said any further delay in delivering compensation was not an option.

“This has dragged on long enough and it is time for the Secretary of State to take action, as she has previously indicated she would do once she had the guidance of local parties,” she said.

Ms Bradley welcomed “the progress made by the parties and awaits their formal feedback”, according to her spokesman. He added, “She is determined to do everything in her power to ensure that the victims and survivors get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible.”