Belfast Telegraph

Abuse survivor slams Brokenshire over payouts

By Eamon Sweeney

A survivor of institutional abuse has said the failure to sign off on compensation packages for victims ultimately lies with Secretary of State James Brokenshire and not at the feet of the head of the Civil Service, David Sterling.

Jon McCourt gave evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry about the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of the Catholic clergy in St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, Londonderry, in the late 1950s and 60s.

Yesterday it emerged that financial compensation packages recommended for survivors by HIA chair Sir Anthony Hart could not be paid out because of the political hiatus at Stormont.

Mr Sterling wrote to victims explaining that any such payments would be open to legal challenge without ministerial approval. But Mr McCourt said that the delay in the process is an excuse that could be bypassed by Mr Brokenshire.

"James Brokenshire is ultimately responsible in the absence of the Executive and he could sign off on this if he wanted to. We keep hearing that this is a devolved matter. It's nothing but an excuse. Look at the Grenfell tragedy. Theresa May, quite rightly, was able to sign off a £5m contingency fund within 48 hours."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the logic behind the decision is flawed, adding: "There is no reason not to make an interim payment. It is negligible money for the Government but hugely important for victims and survivors, both in practical and symbolic terms."

Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon said she did not accept Mr Sterling's analysis that legislation was required to sign off on the compensation payments.

However, the Northern Ireland Office reiterated Mr Brokenshire's position that the matter of payments to victims was up to a devolved administration.

"The Secretary of State has been very clear that in the absence of an Executive, he will not interfere in devolved matters in Northern Ireland except to the extent that it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to allow public administration to continue and public services to be maintained," a spokeperson said.

They added that Mr Brokenshire recognised the frustration being felt by victims and "his sympathies go out to all individuals affected by the horrendous abuse outlined in Sir Anthony Hart's report".

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