The leader of a victims’ group has spoken of her relief after a political agreement was reached that could see victims of historical institutional abuse receive compensation.
Margaret McGuckin, of the Survivors And Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) campaign group, said the agreement should “finally” allow legislation to be brought forward at Westminster to introduce a compensation scheme.
In 2017, an inquiry found “widespread” abuse at children’s homes and other residential institutions in Northern Ireland during the period from 1922 to 1995.
The chair of the inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, recommended compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors.
But, two years later, the compensation scheme has never been introduced.
Yesterday’s agreement should give Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, who has been accused of delaying progress, the go-ahead required to introduce the necessary laws for MPs’ approval.
Ms McGuckin said the agreement will be finalised and brought to Mrs Bradley tomorrow.
“I’m not going to go and congratulate those parties and pat them on the back because this should have been done already,” she said.
“But we are relieved. It is a positive step and we are thankful.”
The compensation payments recommended by Sir Anthony Hart have been put on hold as a result of the Stormont Executive collapsing in January 2017.
Mrs Bradley had moved to assure victims last month that she understands the need for urgency, but she said the local political representatives could move the matter forward as part of the ongoing talks process aimed at restoring power-sharing.
But yesterday’s agreement means Northern Ireland’s main parties have given their backing to the issue being dealt with directly at Westminster, rather than locally.
Ms McGuckin told the News Letter yesterday: “We are getting some changes to the draft legislation and then on Friday it is going to the secretary of state.
“Friday will be another landmark date when this is handed to her.”
She added: “What we’re doing in the meantime is writing to all the chief whips in Westminster asking to have this fast-tracked, and asking to have their support in this.”
Dozens of those abused have died without ever receiving the compensation recommended by the Hart Inquiry.
Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said yesterday’s agreement means “all obstacles” to compensation being given to abuse victims have now been removed.
“It took time, and some parties continue to hold understandable concerns about some of the questions posed by the secretary of state, but today saw all six parties prioritise the need to present a united front for the benefit of the victims and survivors over party political reservations,” he said.
“The parties are keen to continue to discuss the practical outworkings of these agreements, such as how we ensure redress monies are directed to victims and survivors, rather than legal representatives, but today’s agreement removes all obstacles to Mrs Bradley finally introducing legislation at Westminster.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Parties have been working hard together to provide a resolution on this issue, in spite of the unnecessary barriers placed in the way by the Northern Ireland Office.”
He added: “We hope to make further progress in the coming days that will provide victims and survivors with the compensation they are entitled to.”
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said: “Any further delay in delivering their compensation is not an option.
“This has dragged on long enough and it is time for the secretary of state to take action, as she has previously indicated she would do once she had the guidance of local parties.”