The leaders of six political parties in Northern Ireland have urged Karen Bradley to compensate victims of historic institutional abuse “without further delay”.
In a rare show of unity, the leaders stressed it was the secretary of state’s responsibility to implement the recommendations of the Hart Inquiry.
The DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP, Alliance and Greens were responding to Mrs Bradley’s earlier assertion that Westminster legislation can only be brought forward once “fundamental questions” around a number of issues are resolved.
Compensation payments were put on hold as a result of the Stormont Executive collapsing in January 2017.
Mrs Bradley has assured victims she understands the need for urgency, but said the local political representatives could move the matter forward as part of the ongoing talks process aimed at restoring power-sharing.
Earlier this week, Margaret McGuckin of the pressure group SAVIA called on Mrs Bradley to resign, saying the NI secretary as “unfit to govern,” while Labour MP Kate Hoey described the delay in legislating for compensation payments as “unacceptable”.
On Thursday, Mrs McGuckin said: “I’ve been talking to the politicians and they say that can be done, and that it can be done within a week. She has passed so much other legislation that way.”
In the letter to Mrs Bradley, the six party leaders said: “The head of the civil service David Sterling has formally asked you as the secretary of state to progress legislation through Westminster to compensate victims of Historical Institutional Abuse.
“In his appeal to you, Mr Sterling has stressed the need to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion, particularly given the age profiles of those involved.”
It adds: “You have rejected this appeal from the head of the civil service for legislation to compensate victims of historical institutional abuse, instead claiming that it should be a matter for the Stormont negotiations.
“The parties share the view that despite ongoing talks aimed at restoring the Assembly that the recommendations of the Hart Inquiry should be addressed without any further delay and a suitable legal and financial framework put in place to begin addressing the needs of victims by you as secretary of state.”
The letter is signed by Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill, Robin Swann, Colum Eastwood, Naomi Long and Clare Bailey.
Mrs Bradley wrote to victims on Tuesday, informing them that she had decided to put the compensation issue on the agenda of the Stormont talks.
This initiative was dismissed by victims and politicians as treating abuse victims like “political pawns”.
Kate Hoey, acting chair of the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster, has also written to Mrs Bradley calling on her to introduce the necessary legislation.
Dozens of those abused have died without ever receiving the compensation recommended by the Hart Inquiry.
On Wednesday, DUP leader Arlene Foster branded the delay “a shame and disgrace”.