Legislation ensuring compensation for survivors of institutional abuse welcomed

The passing of new legislation, ensuring that compensation will be paid to the survivors of institutional abuse, has been hailed as a “unique and historic” moment by campaigners.

The Bill supports victims who suffered historical physical, sexual and emotional abuse in state and church-run homes in Northern Ireland.

Many survivors have been waiting for the payments since they were recommended following a major inquiry into the abuses in 2017.

But the payments were never made due to the collapse of the devolved Northern Irish government, Stormont, in January 2017.

Campaigners from survival groups attended the House of Commons on Tuesday to watch the Bill pass in the last parliamentary session before the UK General Election in December.

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 (Northern Ireland Secretary of State) 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.”

Mr McCourt said he thought that a fitting tribute to the victims would be a “living memorial” such as an educational bursary for children who may find themselves in similar abusive situations.

“Part of the recommendations were an apology and some sort of memorial tribute. For me, I would prefer to see a living memorial rather than a statue. I don’t think that people need to be reminded of that past.

“To celebrate on this is the wrong thing, I think it’s taken too long to get here. Any good that was in it was lost on the journey but I’m glad we’re at this point now.”

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: “From our perspective 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. So from that perspective we’re delighted where we are.”

The Bill was put forward after the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland ruled on Monday that the Executive Office has the power to act in the absence of ministers and introduce the compensation scheme.

Appeal court judges found that children had suffered from what amounted to torture in Northern Irish children’s homes between 1922 and 1995.

Following the inquiry, chaired by the late retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, a redress scheme was recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, but Stormont collapsed before it could be enacted.

Mr McCann added that, in his view, a public apology from the Executive Office to victims would be “irrelevant now”.

“We’re almost three years post-inquiry. Any form of apology now is too late. In terms of redress, where survivors and victims are most crucially concerned is that it’s up and running as soon as possible.

“From that perspective, we feel by achieving that alone we will see that there’s some tangible support for survivors and victims.”

The Bill has passed through all stages in the Commons and has been sent for royal assent.

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