Belfast Telegraph

Victims of institutional abuse want compensation process speeded up

By Eamon Sweeney

More vulnerable victims and survivors of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland will die this winter before being compensated, it has been warned.

The Panel of Experts on Redress, an independent initiative comprised of a range of victim and survivor groups, yesterday formally challenged Secretary of State James Brokenshire to authorise the financial compensation at Westminster.

Last week it emerged that head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling said he could not authorise the payments recommended by the chairman of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry Sir Anthony Hart.

It would require legislation passed by a Stormont Executive.

And Mr Brokenshire has effectively ruled himself out of taking forward legislation in the Commons that would release the funding.

Jon McCourt, who suffered abuse as a child at St Joseph's children's home at Termonbacca in Londonderry and who sits on the panel, said that Mr Brokenshire was made aware during a summer meeting that urgent action was needed.

"Summer has come and gone. As has autumn and we are now into a winter that some victims, frankly won't survive," Mr McCourt said.

"Victims have been waiting their whole lives for justice. The UK Government must deliver if the Northern Ireland government cannot.

"That means we may need fast-track legislation at Westminster to establish the compensation scheme if Stormont is not there to do what David Sterling says is necessary," he said.

However, the Government issued a statement putting the onus firmly on Stormont.

"The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was established by the Executive and responsibility for implementing Sir Anthony Hart's recommendations falls to the devolved administration," a Government spokesperson said.

"The Secretary of State has been very clear that in the absence of an Executive, he will not interfere in devolved matters in Northern Ireland except to the extent that it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to allow public administration to continue and public services to be maintained.

"Progressing the implementation of the Hart recommendations is one of the many reasons the Secretary of State remains determined to get an NI Executive back up and running as soon as possible."

A portion of the panel's letter to Mr Brokenshire signed by Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International states: "We are now asking you to take this matter in hand, provide the necessary ministerial direction and fast-track legislation at Westminster to provide for the establishment of a redress scheme to meet the needs and wishes of victims and survivors. We think that such a measure would have cross-party support, notwithstanding differences on other issues."

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