Northern Ireland

Historical abuse compensation: SoS 'cannot simply take forward' legislation

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley arriving at 10 Downing Street, London, for a cabinet meeting Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs Bradley sent a letter to victims' groups on Tuesday

NI Secretary Karen Bradley has pushed back the prospect of taking legislation through Westminster to give compensation to victims of historical institutional abuse.

Payments to victims were recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry in 2017.

But power sharing at Stormont collapsed days later and it stalled.

David Sterling, the head of the NI Civil Service, had asked her to take control of the issue.

BBC News NI has seen a letter from Mrs Bradley, which was sent to victims' groups on Tuesday.

It comes a day after the Executive Office published responses to a public consultation on HIA redress.

In the letter, Mrs Bradley suggested putting HIA payments as an item in the Stormont talks process was the "quickest possible way to bring this issue to a resolution".

"Unfortunately we cannot simply take forward legislation without addressing the consultation feedback," Mrs Bradley said in her letter.

Image caption The HIA heard evidence from hundreds of people who spent their childhood in residential homes and institutions

"Urgent consideration needs to be given to the views expressed during the consultation."

The consultation received 562 responses - however the Executive Office said it has completed its analysis of them.

Mrs Bradley added that she has also written to Mr Sterling to ask him to include HIA matters in the current round of Stormont talks.

He is chairing the working group looking at the Programme for Government.

Image caption Last week, the Head of the Civil Service David Sterling said the historical institutional abuse issue "transcends politics"

She added: "The current talks are the best opportunity for these complex issues - such as the total redress payment - to be discussed by local politicians."

Mrs Bradley also said it is "vital" progress is made by the end of May, in line with the overall talks process being reviewed, so that "draft legislation can be finalised".

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the secretary of state believes "the quickest and best route to deliver for victims and survivors is to include this issue as a priority in the talks process".

"This has a timeframe to make progress by the end of May," it added.

The HIA inquiry was set up by Stormont leaders to investigate allegations of abuse in children's residential homes run by religious, charitable and state organisations.

'Shameful betrayal'

It was chaired by Sir Anthony Hart and its remit covered a 73-year period from the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1922 through to 1995.

The inquiry made a number of recommendations including compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors.

Since the inquiry ended two years ago, 30 survivors of historical institutional abuse have died.

Mrs Bradley said she will also meet the chair of the HIA inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, in the coming days, as well as a number of victims' and survivors' groups next week.

Amnesty International has described the latest development as a "shameful betrayal of abuse victims, who have been let down time after time".

Last week, Stormont's political parties echoed calls from David Sterling and victims' groups for the secretary of state to take immediate action on HIA compensation.

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