Northern Ireland news

Abuse survivors will not be used as a 'political football'

Margaret McGuckin of pressure group Savia. Picture by Hugh Russell

A campaigner for survivors of institutional abuse has said they will not be treated as a "political football", as calls were again made for interim compensation payments to be released in the absence of a Stormont executive.

Margaret McGuckin said claims that money cannot be given to victims of Church and state child abuse without the restoration of a power-sharing government are simply not acceptable.

Earlier this week the head of the civil service, David Sterling, said that while draft legislation was being prepared, payments can only be authorised with executive approval.

In January Sir Anthony Hart delivered the findings of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry, which recommended a raft of measures including increased access to mental health care and compensation of up to £100,000.

However, the report came just days after the collapse of the assembly, leaving victims in limbo.

Ms McGuckin, of the Savia campaign group, said while they are aware that implementing the full recommendations requires assembly approval, small statutory payments should not.

"We have already waited almost a year and we now feel like we are being kicked back and forth in political negotiations and that is grossly unfair," she said.

"We are not stupid, we have checked the legislation and we know the civil service could release the relatively small interim payments that would ease so much suffering among our members, many of who are living in dire poverty."

Ms McGuckin said they would be writing to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to ask that he use his influence to put pressure on Secretary of State James Brokenshire to approve the payments in the absence of political agreement.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt, a former victims commissioner, said there was "no reason not to make an interim payment".

"It is negligible money for the government but hugely important to victims and survivors, both in practical and symbolic terms," he said.

"If good government is measured in how well we look after the vulnerable, this is failure on a global scale."

Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MLA Linda Dillon said they also did not accept that legislation was needed.

"Sinn Fein is seeking an urgent meeting with the head of the civil service and we will be calling on him to reverse this decision and put arrangements in place to make a standard payment," she added.

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