Suspension of parliament threatens law compensating clerical abuse victims

Campaigner Margaret McGuckian. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Campaigner Margaret McGuckian. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
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The fall of proposed legislation compensating survivors of child clerical abuse in Northern Ireland following suspension of Parliament would be a cruel blow, a campaigner has said.

Margaret McGuckin, from victims group Savia, believed the Northern Ireland Secretary had been seeking a slot in early autumn to bring forward draft law.

After the Commons is suspended next month bills which have not completed the legislative process will not become law.

Ms McGuckin said: “We are calling for protection of that legislation, we cannot afford that to fall and to start all over again.

“That would be cruel beyond belief, we need that legislation through.”

She said the Government could authorise interim payments to survivors without further parliamentary process.

Former senior judge Sir Anthony Hart held one of the UK’s biggest public inquiries into child abuse from a disused courthouse in Banbridge, Co Down.

He recommended compensation and a series of other measures after investigating decades of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at residential homes run by clergy and the state.

Ms McGuckin has spent years campaigning on the issue and wants to make the last days of survivors’ lives easier.

She urged the DUP, which has a confidence and supply arrangement with the Tories, to “step up to the mark”, asking: “How many knock backs can one take?

“It is unbelievable, over the years we seem to have been going nowhere fast.”

Sir Anthony’s report was published on the eve of Stormont’s collapse more than two and a half years ago.

No ministers have been in place in the devolved parliament in Belfast to act on the inquiry’s recommendations.

Campaigners have focused their efforts on senior Belfast civil servants and the British Government.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, said suspension had “slammed the brakes” on justice for survivors of historical abuse.

Campaigner Jon McCourt said draft legislation ensuring compensation for those harmed over many decades in residential homes run by the state and members of religious orders could be carried forward into the next Westminster session.

It may not become law before Parliament’s suspension in September.

Mr McCourt, from the north west, said he would be writing to parliamentarians urging them to agree to pursue the matter further.

“I think at this point, until it goes down, I won’t write it off.

“It is like the carrot and the stick then the stick grows longer.”

He said unfinished legislation could be carried forward on an exceptional basis.