Stormont impasse severely affecting abuse vicitms - NI chief justice
Sir Declan Morgan says provision of ‘political direction...a requirement of a functioning democracy’
The North’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire.
The human cost of Stormont’s political impasse on victims of historical institutional abuse is becoming increasingly severe, Northern Ireland’s lord chief justice has said.
Sir Declan Morgan acknowledged difficulties facing politicians in a divided society but said handling difficult and challenging disputes was a feature of life for judges.
The North has been without a functioning administration since January of last year following the collapse of powersharing at Stormont.
Efforts to restore the Northern Assembly and Executive have been scuppered by disagreements between Sinn Féin and the DUP over issues such as the Irish language and same sex marriage.
“If, however, resolution is not possible there must be a fallback position, a decision-maker,” Sir Declan said. “The provision of political direction to the machinery of government is a requirement of a functioning democracy. It is not an optional extra.”
He said implementation of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry recommendations was urgent. On their publication some 20 months ago, over a third of those who had engaged with the inquiry were aged over 65, several had died and others were in very poor health.
Groups speaking on behalf of many of those who were in residential homes have made repeated pleas to have the recommendations acted on.
“Those pleas have been supported by all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland yet today those recommendations have still not been implemented and the human cost on those affected is increasingly severe,” Sir Declan said.
He said there should be a process to address the problems facing powersharing.
“I shudder to think what message it sends to the thousands of young people leaving our shores for university or work, people that we should be trying to attract back to populate our legal and other services.”
His funding proposals to deal with inquests into some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles have met with political disagreement.
Sir Declan opened the new legal year at the law courts in Belfast and recalled his comments at the same event last year in which he said the political impasse had stalled the reform agenda of the justice system.
He siad he had respect and sympathy for politicians seeking to deal with the evident divisions within the community.
“Equally I acknowledge the difficulty for civil servants responsible for day-to-day business and the restrictions on what they can achieve within the current legal framework.
“But handling difficult and challenging disputes is a feature of what we do as judges.” - PA