Abuse victims in Northern Ireland have demanded Karen Bradley’s resignation after she again deferred action on a stalled compensation scheme.
Survivors of abusive children’s homes run by the state and religious orders have accused the Northern Ireland secretary of treating them like a “political football” after she declined calls to sanction the outstanding redress payments.
Mrs Bradley wrote to victims on Tuesday night telling them she had instead decided to add the controversial issue to the agenda of the latest Stormont talks process.
Victims allege they are being used as pawns in a government bid to blackmail the local parties into striking a deal to restore devolution and release the compensation.
DUP leader Arlene Foster described the delay as “a shame and disgrace,” while Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill accused Mrs Bradley of using the victims as “political pawns”.
Margaret McGuckin, who survived abuse at a Belfast home run by the Sisters of Nazareth religious order, said she was “heartbroken” at Mrs Bradley’s move.
“It’s time for her to go – she’s unfit to govern here,” she said.
Kate Hoey MP said the delay was “unacceptable”.
Ron Graham, who was abused at the notorious Kincora boys home in Belfast, said: “I think the secretary of state should resign. I don’t think she realises the damage she has done to victims today.”
Mrs Bradley has been under mounting pressure to use her authority to approve redress payouts that have been withheld for two-and-a-half years due to Stormont’s collapse.
Dozens of victims have died without ever receiving compensation that was recommended by a wide-ranging state inquiry that reported just before devolution imploded in January 2017.
Northern Ireland civil servants have prepared legislation to enact the redress scheme, but that cannot be progressed without ministerial approval.
Hopes of a breakthrough were raised earlier this month when the head of the civil service David Sterling formally asked Mrs Bradley to enact the scheme at Westminster. Mr Sterling’s request came following a public consultation exercise on the proposals.
The Conservative MP has not acted on that advice, instead referring the matter back to Mr Sterling and asking him to add it to the agenda of one of several cross-party working groups set up as part of the latest talks process.
A redress scheme, in which victims would have been paid between £7,500 and £100,000, was one of the recommendations of Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI).
That inquiry ran for two years and saw hundreds of victims come forward to relive horrific experiences of child abuse. The probe, chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, reported just days before Stormont collapsed – meaning his recommendations have been on ice ever since.
Acting chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Kate Hoey has written to Mrs Bradley.
Commenting on the letter, the Labour MP said: “It is unacceptable for the government to kick this issue into the long grass while Northern Ireland waits in limbo without Stormont in action, and worse still that the government might be using this as a bargaining chip in the devolution talks.”
Kate Walmsley, who was abused in the Nazareth House in Londonderry, said: “I just believe this is mental torture that we are suffering, all the victims are suffering.
“We have come out and told our stories and at the present I just wish I hadn’t done it, because nobody cares.”
Ms Walmsley, Margaret McGuckin and Mr Graham are members of the SAVIA lobby group for victims and survivors of abuse.
“We thought, hoping against hope, that she would have learnt her lesson on her past blunders,” said Ms McGuckin.
“She could have maybe made something out of this for herself, for her own self-esteem and respect. But she had failed us now, so it’s time for her to go.
“She’s the only minister capable of passing any legislation. She is in charge of Northern Ireland at the moment as a minister and she has failed us – the most vulnerable people here.
“These people are broken hearted, just traumatised. So many people have passed away.
“How many times have we to press upon her the need to deliver for these victims.”