Belfast Telegraph

Prioritise abuse victims over reform of drink laws, says MP

Lady Sylvia Hermon
Lady Sylvia Hermon
Secretary of State Karen Bradley
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Lady Sylvia Hermon has said it would be "very controversial" for the Secretary of State to amend Northern Ireland's liquor licensing laws in Parliament while doing nothing to compensate victims of historical abuse.

The North Down MP made the comment at yesterday's sitting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which was discussing proposed changes to the licensing of special events ahead of this summer's Open Championship in Portrush.

Ms Bradley is understood to be now considering the law change ahead of the July event.

However, compensation for abuse victims recommended by a Stormont-commissioned inquiry have been on ice for two-and-a-half years due to the collapse of the devolved institutions and Mrs Bradley has been under mounting pressure to sanction the outstanding payments.

Facing calls to resign by abuse survivors, last week she pledged to legislate at Westminster - but only once fundamental questions about the redress scheme were answered by Stormont parties.

Lady Hermon told MPs yesterday: "It would be very controversial if the Secretary of State were to take through a piece of legislation to change the liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland, but was to find herself unable to take through legislation to compensate victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, Theresa May has been urged to personally intervene over compensation to those who suffered institutional abuse after she was told "victims are dying without seeing justice".

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said it has been more than two years since the report into historical offences was published, and survivors are still waiting for a resolution.

During Prime Minister's Questions, he said: "The fact of the matter is many of them are dying without seeing the compensation come through."

In response, the Prime Minister said she understood the "extent of concern". She added that it would be a matter for the Stormont Executive, but as there is currently none in place, Mrs Bradley will look into it.

Earlier in the Commons, Ms Bradley came under fire on the issue, with Mr Dodds saying the delay in paying compensation to the victims is an "outrage".

Mr Dodds said: "The Secretary of State, and indeed the whole House, will be aware of the sense of outrage that there is across the entire community in Northern Ireland, and indeed the victims of abuse, about the Secretary of State's approach to this issue in recent days.

"Given the fact the Secretary of State does have the ability to make this move faster, people are outraged at the idea of having to wait another couple of years, as she appeared to indicate. Will she now bring forward measures to immediately deal with this issue?"

Ms Bradley replied: "I do not shy away in any way from my responsibilities in this area and I am determined we will act as soon as we can. The two years he referred to are predictions from the Civil Service of Northern Ireland, but that is not an estimate that I have put forward."

Mr Dodds responded: "This is one of the most terrible examples of a whole series of decisions with cross-party and cross-community support that she has refused to do anything about even though her Government is responsible for the administration of Northern Ireland."

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