Belfast Telegraph

Frustrated abuse victims to picket Northern Ireland Secretary’s garden party in compensation row

Jon McCourt at Stormont yesterday after meeting Secretary of State Karen Bradley
Jon McCourt at Stormont yesterday after meeting Secretary of State Karen Bradley
Margaret McGuckian
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Furious survivors of institutional child abuse are to picket a garden party hosted by Secretary of State Karen Bradley today.

They voiced their anger last night after the Government ruled out interim compensation payments for older abuse victims and those terminally ill.

Margaret McGuckin, from victims' campaign group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said she was devastated to be told at a meeting with Mrs Bradley yesterday that it could take up to two years for compensation payments to be made.

"It was a disastrous meeting. To have our hopes of finally seeing movement shattered is unacceptable," Ms McGuckin said.

"We are exhausted but we will be at the gates of Karen Bradley's garden party making our voices heard. Even in the face of public furore about how we are being treated, she has not listened."

Other victims accused the Secretary of State of "emotional blackmail" after they said she told them that while it was impossible to fast-track legislation through Parliament, a redress scheme could be running within six weeks if power-sharing was restored.

Northern Ireland's six main party leaders answered four questions posed by Mrs Bradley about the scheme, only for a further 11 to then be asked of them.

The parties united last night in rounding on the Secretary of State over the additional questions and accused her of employing delaying tactics.

They had earlier agreed to increasing the minimum payout to those abused from £7,500 to £10,000.

Mrs Bradley held the series of meetings with victims to explain her position. She told them there could be a lengthy legislative process at Westminster due to the suspension of power-sharing.

She insisted she was committed to resolving the issues as soon as possible but needed answers to "fundamental" questions from the local parties.

Jon McCourt, who was abused at St Joseph's Children's Home in Londonderry, expressed his fury at Mrs Bradley's stance.

"It is a form of emotional blackmail. And it doesn't just hurt those of us who were present at the meeting but others, who are more vulnerable, whom we have to deliver this message to," he said.

"I am not saying there is no hope but there is no hope right now and there is no hope in three months, and there is a possibility there may not be hope of seeing this resolved for a further 12 months."

Mr McCourt, who leads the Survivors North West group, said the request for an interim payment for victims who were elderly or terminally ill "who would not make it for another 12 months" had been refused.

"All we can tell them is we're fighting the best we can. We'll take it to the end but we've no idea when that end will be. By the time we get there, we won't have as many people as we have today."

Mr McCourt added: "We are being used as a political pawn in a game to force a coalition of the unwilling around a table."

Compensation payments for victims, a public apology, a memorial at Stormont and care packages were among the recommendations made by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart two years ago in his public inquiry into institutional child abuse.

Ron Graham, who was abused in Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast, praised Mrs Bradley for being "honest and open" during the meeting.

"I really do thank her for that, but it's about time that these political parties and the TEO [The Executive Office] and civil servants stopped using us as a political football," he said.

"We are victims of abuse and they are only abusing us more. Thirty victims have died in the last two-and-a-half years.

"It's about time that this building up here [Stormont] was knocked down and moved to Westminster for direct rule where we can at least get some hope of getting our compensation that we have been promised."

Speaking after the meetings, Mrs Bradley said she was determined to deliver for victims "in the quickest and most effective way".

She said: "I am asking the political parties in Northern Ireland to work with me to that end. I understand why feelings are so strong on this issue and that's why I want to ensure victims and survivors of abuse get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible.

"They have been wronged and let down by the system too many times, and I want to make sure it doesn't happen to them again. The system needs to be fair, robust and able to deliver for victims and survivors."

She thanked the parties for answering the first set of questions and said she looked forward "to getting their views as soon as possible on the other fundamental questions which have been asked by the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and which must be answered by local politicians before we can consider legislation".

The Executive Office would send the remaining questions to the parties "so that they can be discussed at the next meeting of the Programme for Government working group" in the talks, she said.

The Secretary of State added that her officials would meet with Sir Anthony Hart today.

DUP Assembly member Edwin Poots said he believed the parties could respond to the additional questions within the next 48 hours.

He stated that legislation could then take at least a year to go through Westminster - with six months required to establish a redress panel.

He added: "In the absence of Stormont being established, victims should not be used as a battering ram or some sort of pawns in the process."

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill accused Mrs Bradley's of employing delaying tactics with the extra questions. "I think it's just not good enough," she said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry claimed the Government was "shifting goalposts" with the new questions.

"People are wanting to get this over the line, looking for certainty, and just as perhaps you feel one set of problems have been addressed, other issues seem to pop up and that just adds to the growing sense of frustration," he said.

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