Northern Ireland news

Abuse victims urge Boris Johnson to 'do the right thing' and pass compensation bill

Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress

VICTIMS of institutional abuse have urged Boris Johnson to "do the right thing" and pass a landmark compensation bill before parliament is dissolved.

There are fears the bill will not be passed ahead of the snap December 12 general election.

Parliament has just days to agree to set up a compensation scheme for victims.

The bill is expected to be completed in the House of Lords today and heard in the Commons hours later.

Victims' group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia) has now written an open letter to the prime minister urging him to fast-track the legislation.

"Our people have had a lifetime of suffering from the abuse we were subjected to as children at the hands of the state," the letter read.

"And we have been let down so many times since; not least with the collapse of the executive and assembly back in 2017 as the Hart Inquiry reported, but now the same is threatened once again, when the justice we have fought so hard to secure hangs by a thread as parliament shuts down for an election."

The letter urged Mr Johnson to "do the right thing" for victims.

It is almost three years since the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry exposed serious sexual, physical and emotional abuse over decades at children's homes run by religious orders, charities and the state.

Interim victims' advocate Brendan McAllister also said the bill must be passed for the sake of survivors.

"It is time to bring this ordeal to an end," he said.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey yesterday urged MPs to act swiftly.

He warned that no government would want to go into a general election "having just deprived victims of historical institutional abuse of compensation".

"It is now over to the House of Commons. I hope they do the right thing," he said.

Earlier yesterday, it appeared that the bill would fall at the final hurdle.

However, Labour peer Peter Hain, a former secretary of state, tabled an amendment in the Lords in a last-ditch attempt to get the bill sent to the Commons.

There was confusion after Labour peers initially said they would not support the amendment.

But they later changed their minds and the amendment was pushed through late yesterday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Julian Smith told MPs he wanted the bill to get through "in all scenarios".

Margaret McGuckin from Savia said victims cannot deal with another delay.

"How can we take another knock like this?" she said.

"We've had so many ups and downs."

Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who represents the majority of abuse victims, said survivors had previously had their hopes built up, only to be dashed.

She said Secretary of State Julian Smith and his predecessor Karen Bradley could have brought the bill through Westminster months ago but "instead failed to act to keep pressure on NI politicians to reunite at the assembly".

"Survivors have been treated with the most appalling indifference by Government officials as was even highlighted by the UN Committee against Torture almost six months ago – again they failed to act or do anything until JR80 HIA survivors went before the Court of Appeal this month and both the Secretary of State and Executive office were under judicial pressure," she said.

During Northern Ireland questions in the Commons yesterday, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told the government that abuse victims felt "very very frustrated and angry" at the possibility the bill may fail.

"There's cross-party support here in this house," he said.

"There's cross-community support in Northern Ireland. Please, please get on with it."

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