Historical institutional abuse: Campaigners celebrate as compensation bill approved

Northern Ireland child abuse survivors are celebrating victory in Parliament after a years-long struggle for compensation.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 6:27 pm
Margaret McGuckin said the victory for abuse victims and survivors was a 'cross-community effort'

With just hours remaining before the dissolution of Parliament, MPs approved a bill offering redress to victims of historic abuse at residential institutions in Northern Ireland.

Campaigner Margaret McGuckin said: “We didn’t give up, we wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

This came just a day after another victory at the Court of Appeal in Belfast, where judges ruled that Stormont officials have the power to implement a compensation scheme for the “torture” victims were forced to endure.

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From left, Rosetta Trust chairman Gerry McCann, Conor Ryan, Survivors North West chairman Jon McCourt and Professor Patricia Lundy of Ulster University on College Green in Westminster today after the compensation bill was passed

Survivors had campaigned for years for a public apology and compensation.

An inquiry looked into allegations of abuse in various homes from 1922 until 1995 and found, in 2017, that the abuse was “widespread”.

The inquiry’s chairman, the late Sir Anthony Hart, said victims should receive compensation and an apology.

But the laws necessary for such a redress scheme have never been introduced and, with no power-sharing government at Stormont, victims were forced to look to Westminster for action.

A bill to compensate those victims has now been approved by MPs.

Ms McGuckin, an abuse survivor who leads the lobby group SAVIA, said: “This was a cross-community effort, Protestant and Catholic, and we love each other and support each other. We’ve united together under the same pain, the same hurt. There’s no division. We’ve done it together.”

But while campaigners were celebrating today, Ms McGuckin stressed that the compensation scheme “should have been done a long time ago”.

She added: “We are all thinking right now about the people who didn’t live to see this. We are of course celebrating today but this should have been done a long time ago.

“But we are pleased. I am over the moon. In fact I think it will take a few days to register – between the victory in court and this today.

“We have to commend Claire McKeegan and Phoenix Law for standing by us and JR80, a SAVIA member, who put himself forward as an elderly gentleman.

“My own brother was sexually abused by those in Nazareth Lodge in the De La Salle Order, the so-called Christian Brothers.

“They robbed my brother of a life. That’s what has given me that determination – not only for him but I have seen so many people hurting. People from Kincora, people from Rathgael, everywhere else.”

Jon McCourt, chairman of Survivors North West, said the occasion had been “a long time coming for lots of victims and survivors”.

“There’s certainly a power in what happened today, the speech by Julian Smith was really, really powerful, but as everyone has said, this is a day for victims and survivors,” he said.

“Hopefully this will be some closure to some people, we hope so, and what we really want to see is a speedy roll-out of the redress process.”

A visibly emotional Julian Smith addressed MPs today, saying: “Child abuse victims never had their full childhood and were then held hostage by the experiences that they had throughout their lives.”

He added: “I hope that this bill goes some way in providing Northern Ireland victims with redress, and I hope for other victims throughout our country that their time for redress will come very soon.”

Gerry McCann, chairman of the Rosetta Trust, said the speech by the secretary of state was “very emotional and expressed all the frustrations and emotional attachments of all the survivors”.

He added: “It was a unique and historic day for all of us. The journey we’ve had over the last 10 or 15 years has now come to an end.”

Brendan McAllister, interim advocate for victims of historical institutional abuse, praised Mr Smith: “He has been brave and tenacious in his approach to this matter.”

Mr McAllister said he is now looking forward with the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, to ensure the laws are acted upon.

“The law is now on the statute books,” he said. “It is time to deliver.”

Mr Sterling said: “Responsibility for delivering against that legislation returns to The Executive Office and the wider civil service and I am determined we will do everything possible to bring closure to HIA victims and survivors as quickly as possible.”

Mr Sterling said the Executive Office at Stormont is “bringing additional resources” in “so that we can quickly provide redress to the historic institutional abuse victims and survivors who have already waited too long for justice”.