Agony of Northern Ireland abuse survivors as compensation bid fails, but court leaves door open
Historic abuse victims in Northern Ireland have accused the Government of ignoring its moral duty after a legal bid to secure stalled compensation payouts failed.
A judge at Belfast High Court ruled that Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley's ongoing refusal to intervene and implement a redress scheme was not unlawful.
Compensation payments of up to £100,000 recommended by a state inquiry more than two years ago have not been distributed to victims due to the collapse of the power-sharing executive at Stormont.
A judicial review taken by an abuse survivor in an attempt to compel Mrs Bradley to establish the scheme, and call an Assembly election to address the political impasse, was rejected by Judge Bernard McCloskey yesterday.
While he said Mrs Bradley's current stance was not unlawful, he did not issue a final order in the case, instead leaving the door open for a potential further challenge.
Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling is in the final stages of drawing up draft legislation that would give effect to the redress scheme. He intends to present this to Mrs Bradley and ask her to take it through Westminster.
Justice McCloskey indicated to lawyers for the anonymous victim, known as JR80, that he would be prepared to hear the case again if Mrs Bradley does not act on the draft legislation.
"The intervention of the court in this case has occurred at a fixed point in time," he said.
"Certain imminent events of unmistakable significance, involving the Secretary of State in particular, are awaited."
After the hearing Jon McCourt, chairman of the Survivors North West group, said: "We are angry, we are disappointed, we are frustrated and I don't know what this is going to do to people who had actually put their hopes on the justice system starting to work on behalf of justice for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse.
"There's something wrong with this system when it doesn't prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable people in its society."
He said the spotlight was now on Mrs Bradley and what she would do with the draft legislation. "Let's see what she does, let's see if she has a moral conscience," he added.
"Let's see whether she's prepared at some point to take into consideration the harm, the damage, the pain and the trauma that's been caused to victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse."
Kate McCausland, whose 88-year-old mum Una Irvine was abused in a home run by the Sisters of Nazareth religious order in Belfast, wept as she described her mother's ongoing battle with Alzheimer's.
"The time has passed for her to have the satisfaction of knowing that justice was done," she said.
"Two years ago she may have been able to enjoy the practical help that compensation would have afforded her, but there are so many like her and I think it's an absolute disgrace that's she's been let down.
"They were helpless in the home. She was four when she was put in and she spent 10 years there and they were helpless, they had nowhere to run then, and they've been let down again by those in authority."
Mrs McCausland, from Ballygowan, Co Down, said her mother's two younger sisters, who were also in Nazareth House, died before the HIA inquiry was set up.
The applicant JR80 is a member of the lobby group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA). The group's solicitor Claire McKeegan said the court order was "unique".
"The court has not abandoned these proceedings, there has been no final order," she said.
"Today's order suggests that JR80 has an opportunity to revisit these proceedings should there be a situation where the Secretary of State refuses to take the legislation through Parliament once David Sterling has it completed.
"We believe that this is positive and the court has exercised a supervisory role over what should happen next."
She said the legal team would study the judgment in full before deciding whether there were grounds for appeal.
A member of SAVIA called Shauneen said yesterday: "If ever there was a reason for our politicians to get back to work, this is it."