Karen Bradley 'should resign' over failure to deliver compensation for abuse victims
KAREN Bradley should resign over her failure to progress payments for abuse victims, a leading campaigner has said.
The Secretary of State has told victims' groups that she cannot take legislation through Westminster which would allow survivors to be given redress payments.
Instead, she claimed that raising the issue as part of fresh talks aimed at restoring power-sharing at Stormont would be the "quickest possible way to bring this issue to a resolution".
Margaret McGuckin from Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia) said Mrs Bradley has been "completely useless for Northern Ireland".
"She is not fit to be Secretary of State. She hasn't got a clue." she said.
"She has used us as a political football to get all the parties together for these talks."
Ms McGuckin said she did not know if Savia would take part in a planned meeting between Mrs Bradley and victims' groups next week.
"I'm really not sure if we want to meet her now."
She said several survivors wept when she told them of the news this morning.
"Everybody has been re-traumatised by this. For many of our people this is the only thing that's keeping them going."
She added: "We trusted these people and they have let us down."
The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry recommended compensation payments to victims more than two years ago and the scheme would have seen pay-outs of between £7,500 and £100,000.
But the process was stalled following the collapse of Stormont in January 2017 - just days after the abuse inquiry report was published.
Since the inquiry released its findings, 32 abuse victims have died.
In a letter to victims' groups, seen by The Irish News, Mrs Bradley said she must address responses to a public consultation on redress payments before any new law can be passed.
The Executive Office published responses to the consultation on Monday.
"Urgent consideration needs to be given to the views expressed during the consultation, and how the remaining questions and issues can be resolved as quickly as possible," Mrs Bradley said.
"All of the main Northern Ireland political parties have expressed to me their desire to see the issue of redress taken forward.
"The current talks are the best opportunity for these complex issues - such as the total redress payment - to be discussed by local politicians.
"I have therefore written to David Sterling today to ask that he invite the parties to consider these issues under the Programme for Government strand of the talks, and identify where there is consensus on the outstanding issues."
Mr Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, said last week that a law to introduce redress payments should be progressed through Westminster.
Jon McCourt, chair of the Derry-based Survivors North West group, also accused Mrs Bradley of using victims to "blackmail" parties at Stormont.
"We are calling on local party leaders to jointly respond to Karen Bradley and to reject her attempt to bring this issue into talks about any future Programme for Government," he said.
"They should stand together with survivors and insist that the Secretary of State introduces legislation at Westminster before the summer."
Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who represents abuse survivors, said they have been let down again.
"It is deeply upsetting and frustrating for survivors to know that steps could and should be taken but that for political reasons this has not happened," she said.
Ron Graham of Savia, who was abused at the notorious Kincora boys home in Belfast, said: "I think the Secretary of State should resign. I don't think she realises the damage she has done to victims today."
Kate Walmsley, who was abused in the Nazareth House in Derry, said: "I just believe this is mental torture that we are suffering, all the victims are suffering.
"We have come out and told our stories and at the present I just wish I hadn't done it, because nobody cares."
Abuse survivors had launched an unsuccessful legal bid to force Mrs Bradley to introduce compensation payments.
A High Court judge ruled last month that there was no unlawful failure to act by either Mrs Bradley or the Executive Office.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said yesterday the redress scheme should not be part of the Stormont talks.
"Karen Bradley needs to start putting the needs of victims and survivors before her own political priorities and immediately put in place the required legal and financial framework to assist them," she said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA said the delay in redress payments was a "shame and disgrace".
"This is why devolution should be restored immediately so matters like this compensation can be taken forward by ministers," she said.
"In the absence of devolution, the government has a moral duty to meet this financial commitment but ultimately the institutions who closed their eyes to the abuse must be prepared to make their contribution to this compensation as has happened elsewhere."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also accused Mrs Bradley of using victims as political pawns.