Pressure on Karen Bradley over historical abuse compensation, but still no date

Karen Bradley and Theresa May have faced intense pressure in the House of Commons over their sluggish timetable for compensating victims of child abuse – but it is still not clear when Mrs Bradley will bring forward legislation.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 22nd May 2019, 6:27 pm
Karen Bradley faced repeated pressure from MPs when she faced questioned in the Commons yesterday
Karen Bradley faced repeated pressure from MPs when she faced questioned in the Commons yesterday

With no immediate prospect of devolution being restored, Tory, Labour and DUP MPs all pressed the secretary of state to end the pain of victims of historical institutional abuse by clarifying her intention to urgently bring forward a bill in Westminster.

Speaking during Northern Ireland questions, Mrs Bradley insisted that she was not stalling, as the victims have alleged, and said that “their stories are heartrending”.

At a meeting with Mrs Bradley on Monday night, some victims told her to resign due to the two years of delay since Sir Anthony Hart’s public inquiry recommended they be compensated.

The secretary of state faced pressure from South Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn and Labour’s shadow NIO minister Stephen Pound who said: “Their agony is becoming unendurable...it would be unconscionable for us to wait for another two years.”

He pledged that Labour would support the legislation, thus guaranteeing that it would be passed quickly at Westminster if Mrs Bradley acts soon.

Mrs Bradley told MPs: “I am not prepared to wait for restored devolution to make [sic] action in this matter. I am determined that we will do everything we can for those victims of historical abuse and that we will take measures forward as soon as possible and not wait for restored devolution.”

She insisted that new questions which were put to the local parties this week had originated with the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, and not with her.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said that she would be “aware of the sense of outrage that there is across the entire community in Northern Ireland and indeed the victims of abuse about he secretary of state’s approach to this in recent days.

“Frankly, many people are saying that far too much time has elapsed already, given the fact that the secretary of state does have the ability to make this move faster, people are outraged at the idea of having to wait another couple of years as she appeared to indicate. Will she now undertake that she will bring forward measures immediately to deal with this issue?”

Sounding indignant, Mrs Bradley said: “I do not shy away from my responsibilities in this area in any way and I am determined we will act as soon as we can.

“The two years he’s referring to is as an estimate by the Civil Service of Northern Ireland. It’s not an estimate I have put forward.”

Mr Dodds said that it was just the most terrible example of multiple decisions which have cross-community support “but which she has refused to do anything about even though this place and her government is responsible for the administration of Northern Ireland”.

Again sounding indignant, Mrs Bradley insisted that it was civil servants who had come up with questions which she was now putting to the parties “to help me to get decisions - but I am not shying away from my responsibility in that area; I am merely asking them if they will help me answer the questions that David Sterling has posed to me”.

Pressed by fellow Tory Maria Caulfield on whether she would commit to bringing the legislation through Westminster, Mrs Bradley said she would bring the legislation “wherever it is quickest”. In the absence of a legislature in Belfast, that would unquestionably mean Westminster.

Mr Dodds later challenged Theresa May about the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Mrs May pledged to speak to Mrs Bradley about “what I recognise is a matter of deep concern to many people in Northern Ireland”.