Belfast Telegraph

Government’s commitment to compensate NI abuse victims is welcomed

The Queen and Prince Charles before the reading of the Queen’s Speech yesterday
The Queen and Prince Charles before the reading of the Queen’s Speech yesterday
The Imperial State Crown is carried into the House of Lords
Gavin Robinson
Patrick Corrigan

By Shaun Connolly

A commitment by the Government to set up a redress board to compensate victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland has been welcomed.

It was not included in the Queen's Speech as it was delivered in Parliament, but was contained in supporting documents detailing bills the government has committed to.

The government also plans to create a statutory commissioner for victims and survivors.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson welcomed the news. "It is something which should have been brought forward through the Northern Ireland Assembly but it is one of the many ways the people of Northern Ireland have been failed by 1,000 days of boycott.

"Some of the victims suffered abuse 40 or 50 years ago. Some have already passed away whilst waiting for progress to be made, whilst all are getting older. It is vital that the issue of compensation is progressed swiftly. They have been forced to wait too long already and no further hurdles should be placed in their path."

Following the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, a report from Sir Anthony Hart in 2017 found there had been widespread and systemic abuse in Northern Ireland children's homes.

He made a series of recommendations including compensation, a permanent memorial and a public apology. The suggested compensation level was set at between £7,500 to £100,000 but the collapse of Stormont shortly afterwards prevented further progress. Dozens of those affected have now died without receiving any compensation.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International UK's Northern Ireland director, said the Bill "must have victims' needs at its centre and must become law without further unnecessary delay".

"Victims have already been made to wait for years for justice and must finally receive some measure of compensation for the pain they endured as children," he said.

In a heavily trailed package of 26 Bills, seven related to crime and justice. These include legislation to keep serious criminals in prison for longer, impose tougher sentences on foreign offenders who return to the UK and provide better protection for victims of domestic abuse.

The Queen said: "New sentencing laws will see that the most serious offenders spend longer in custody to reflect better the severity of their crimes."

A Sentencing Bill will change the automatic release point from halfway to two thirds for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violence or sexual offences.

The Queen made the short trip to the Palace of Westminster from Buckingham Palace accompanied by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for the State Opening of Parliament.

The 93-year-old head of state wore the George IV Diadem throughout, rather than switching into the heavy Imperial State Crown, which is made of more than 3,000 gemstones and weighs 2lbs 13oz, though it was till present, on a table beside her.

On Brexit, the Queen said: "My Government's priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union on October 31."

Ministers are preparing to rush through a Bill to ratify any Brexit deal Boris Johnson is able to agree this week in Brussels in time for Britain to leave on schedule.

Other measures outlined in the speech include strengthening environmental protections, improving the NHS, ending free movement of labour from the EU and raising living standards through increasing the national living wage to £10.50 an hour.

With no Commons majority, it is questionable how much of the proposed legislation in the Queen's Speech ministers can get through Parliament before a general election.

And there is a major question mark over whether MPs will pass the legislative programme, which will go to a vote after several days of debate.

The law and order package includes a Bill to "drastically" increase the sentences for foreign criminals who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order, a move ministers say will help disrupt the activities of international crime gangs.

Proposed legislation will make it easier for police to arrest internationally wanted fugitives who are the subject of an Interpol Red Notice without the need to apply for a UK arrest warrant.

The programme includes a "Helen's Law" Bill, named after 22-year-old Helen McCourt who was murdered in 1988, to deny parole to murderers who withhold information about their victims.

The Government will also bring back the Domestic Abuse Bill which fell as a result of Mr Johnson's unlawful suspension of Parliament last month.

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