Victims of institutional abuse still hopeful on compensation bill

Hopes are high that compensation will be approved for victims of abuse at children’s homes in Northern Ireland, despite fears the coming election would scupper the plans.

Friday, 1st November 2019, 10:57 am
Margaret McGuckin from lobby group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA). Pic: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Victims, many of whom are elderly and in poor health, have waited years for compensation for the sexual and physical abuse they suffered at children’s homes and residential institutions in Northern Ireland.

A bill to establish a redress scheme cleared the House of Lords yesterday, but MPs are facing a race against time to ensure it also clears the House of Commons before Parliament dissolves for the snap election on December 12.

Margaret McGuckin, a survivor of child abuse who leads the lobby group SAVIA (Survivors And Victims of Institutional Abuse), has been in contact with senior political figures and believes the government will “find a slot” to get the legislation through on time.

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“We are hopeful that it will finally happen after all this time,” she added.

A Downing Street spokesman last night appeared to confirm the government’s intention to get the legislation through.

“Given the importance and sensitivity of this bill we sincerely hope that Parliament will find the time to give this bill the scrutiny it deserves and to pass this bill before Parliament is dissolved,” the spokesman said.

“The government is fully committed to ensuring victims of institutional abuse get the redress they deserve. That is why it was one of the first bills introduced following the Queen’s Speech.”

This follows earlier concerns there would not be enough time to pass the legislation necessary to set up the redress scheme recommended by the chairman of an inquiry into the abuse in 2017.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain said he understood that MPs had been told by business managers in the Commons that there was no time for the legislation to go through the elected chamber.

He said: “If that is the case, that is not right.”

But Ms McGuckin said the apparent turnaround from the government had come after an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson from the SAVIA lobby group.

“I do believe the letter helped,” she said.

“Of course we are delighted that this looks like it is finally going to happen, but this should have happened a long time ago.

“Why has it taken this long? We’re not about to congratulate them if it does make it over the line.”

She added: “Too many people have passed away before this and if it does make it over the line, this isn’t a jubilant time.”