Belfast Telegraph

MP calls for Prime Minister to explain abuse victim 'disrespect' as debate shelved

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A Northern Ireland MP has demanded Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with those survivors of institutional and historical abuse and explain why a debate concerning them was shelved in order to suspend parliament.

Sylvia Hermon made the comments as scheduled debates on matters involving historical institutional abuse were not moved meaning an intended 90 minute debate did not take place.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said new laws will be included as part of the next Queen's Speech "as a matter of urgency".

The five motions relating to Northern Ireland were debated together, rather than separately, after two emergency debates on Brexit ate into the remaining sitting time of the parliamentary session.

The North Down independent MP said she was "extremely disappointed and annoyed" the separate debate did not happen.

It came just hours ahead of a parliament shut down for almost five weeks.

"By proroguing parliament tonight the prime minister has wilfully and deliberately deprived those victims of a 90 minute debate," Lady Hermon told MPs.

"He has sent out a clear signal those victims do not even merit a 90 minute debate.

"It is appalling behaviour."

She asked Northern Ireland Secretary of state Julian Smith to "demand the prime minister comes to NI and sits in a meeting and looks those victims of institutional abuse in the face and explains why he is so disrespectful and discourteous for the hurt and suffering they have endured."

Ian Paisley also asked why the matters had been set aside given government pledges on how they would be dealt with quickly.

Mr Smith said given the change in parliament's order paper - which had seen a number of last minute emergency additions - it was not possible to hold the necessary debate given the "major challenge" of conducting the day's business ahead of parliament's shutdown.

He apologised saying it did not diminish how seriously he was progressing the issues or how effective the commitments he had made were.

"We can ask no more of victims, we can ask no more of the Hart Inquiry," he said.

"The inquiry has been undertaken, officials have prepared the policy, the lawyers have prepared the draft law and I have asked that this be included in the Queen's Speech as a matter of urgent priority."

In January 2017 an inquiry led by Sir Anthony Hart found widespread and systemic abuse in children's homes across Northern Ireland and made a number of recommendations, including compensation for victims.

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

Mr Smith's predecessor Karen Bradley previously came under fire over the matter and was accused of using the issue as blackmail to force the restoration of Stormont. Something she denied.

During Monday's debate DUP MPs vented their frustration at the imposition of abortion reform should the Executive not be restored by October 21.

Ian Paisley asked if the "legal chaos" brought about by the changes was what Mr Smith wanted as his legacy, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State replied if the parties "got their act together" they could halt the changes coming in.

Mr Smith also reiterated there would be no prosecutions of Troubles veteran soldiers if no new evidence existed.

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