The compensation scheme was recommended following an inquiry into allegations of child sexual and physical abuse at children’s homes in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995.
The inquiry’s recommendations have not yet been implemented, but campaigners secured an important victory when MPs at Westminster legislated for a compensation scheme in the final hours before Parliament was dissolved for the recent election.
The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, has now said victims should begin receiving compensation shortly after April.
Margaret McGuckin, an abuse survivor who leads the lobby group SAVIA (Survivors And Victims of Institutional Abuse), said: “Of course this should have happened a long time ago but right now we are pleased to see things finally moving.”
Following meetings with victims and survivors today, Mr Sterling said: “I gave a commitment to victims and survivors that I would keep them updated on ongoing developments to implement the HIA (Historic Institutional Abuse) legislation.
“We have made significant progress over the last month in developing arrangements for redress payments and are now ready to engage with victims and survivors on the design of an application form that meets the needs of applicants and provides the information required for the redress board to carry out its role effectively.
“We will also be working with victims and survivors to inform what support they may need to help them through the application process.
“This work will begin after Christmas with a view to opening the application process at the end of March 2020.
“The redress board panels will be available to sit from the end of April, with the first approved payments to follow shortly thereafter.”
Ms McGuckin, speaking to the News Letter from Castle Buildings at Stormont, said: “This is good news that things are moving forward and that there will be input from victims in the process.
“We have been told there will be a non-adversarial process.”
She added: “We are due to meet with the president of the redress board tomorrow.”
Outlining other significant developments, Mr Sterling said: “The necessary preparatory work to appoint a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse has been undertaken and a competition for this position will be launched in January.
“January will also see the announcement of the first multi-disciplinary members of the redress board and the launch of a competition to recruit for additional panels.”