Northern Ireland

Historic institutional abuse compensation progress made

man with head in hands Image copyright bodnarchuk
Image caption Payments to victims were recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry in 2017

The prospect of victims of historical institutional abuse receiving compensation appears to have inched closer.

Stormont parties and the head of the NI Civil Service, David Sterling, reached agreement on Wednesday on changes to draft legislation.

Civil servants will now draft a letter for the party leaders to send to the NI secretary.

The letter will outline the issues raised during the a consultation.

In 2017, a report found that children's homes run by some churches, charities and state institutions in Northern Ireland were the scene of widespread abuse and mistreatment of young residents.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) studied allegations of abuse in 22 homes and other residential institutions between 1922 to 1995.

The chairman of the inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, recommended compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors.

He said tax-free lump sum payments ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 should be made to all survivors, including in homes and institutions not covered by the inquiry.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The inquiry was chaired by Sir Anthony Hart

In April 2019, the High Court heard the Northern Ireland secretary and Executive Office were playing "pass the parcel" over who was responsible for implementing the compensation scheme.

Barry McDonald, a lawyer representing survivors said as many as 30 survivors had died since the inquiry ended.

But Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said she would not bring legislation forward at Westminster in the absence of a devolved assembly.

She denied she was delaying progress and said she needed the "guidance and support of Northern Ireland's" parties to resolve the issue.

Progress

The parties have now agreed to sign off on changes confirming their backing for the matter to be dealt with at Westminster.

There had been some disagreement about the backdating of payments to relatives of deceased victims.

It is understood the parties have agreed this will happen, although the families of those who have died will have to satisfy a board overseeing the financial redress or compensation that they have a valid claim.

It will then be up to the Northern Ireland Office to ensure the draft legislation is ready to be taken through Westminster.

In a statement a government spokesperson said:

"The secretary of state welcomes the progress made by the parties and awaits their formal feedback.

"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."

'Interim advocate'

The BBC also understands that the Stormont Executive Office intends to appoint an "Interim Advocate" for Victims of Historical Abuse by the start of next month.

Executive Office sources say they hope the Advocate will provide a voice for the victims still waiting for compensation and the implementation of Sir Anthony Hart's inquiry, which reported in January 2017.

The progress comes just a day after some victims groups had been told by a Northern Ireland Office adviser that such a bill was unlikely to be brought before the Commons ahead of the summer parliamentary recess.

Related Topics

More on this story