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Newton Emerson: Abuse victims being used as political pawns

Kate Walmsley, Ron Graham, and Margaret McGuckin, pictured left to right, from Savia have called on secretary of state Karen Bradley to resign in her failure to process payments to survivors and victims of institutional abuse in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

SECRETARY of State Karen Bradley has crashed through the polite pretence of indirect rule in the most grotesque way imaginable, by pointedly refusing to pay compensation to victims of historic institutional abuse.

She has written to victims saying "we cannot simply take forward legislation without addressing the consultation feedback".

Since Stormont collapsed, the Northern Ireland Office has passed legislation and budgets after consultation with stakeholders.

This has compromised so many principles of devolution that decisions on what to do are now transparently arbitrary - which requires more discretion when applying indirect rule's intended pressure on the political process, not less.

Yet Bradley crassly added in her letter "the current talks are the best opportunity for these complex issues" and her office doubled down on this when questioned, saying the issue should be added to the Stormont talks agenda.

With Troubles legacy being carefully kept on a separate agenda, it could not be clearer that abuse victims are being used as pawns.

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To her credit, Bradley has been fighting to stop legacy derailing the Stormont talks, as has the prime minister.

Even the DUP and Sinn Féin were on the same page as recently as last week, rejecting demands for a security force amnesty from Tory MP Johnny Mercer.

But proposals by new defence secretary Penny Mordaunt to limit historic prosecutions are testing this consensus to destruction, forcing the DUP to say Northern Ireland veterans cannot be excluded.

In truth, what Mordaunt is proposing is nothing like an amnesty but that distinction is rapidly being lost.

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An Irish Language Act remains the key to Stormont talks and an Irish language commissioner remains a key bone of contention.

So with obvious timing, Conradh na Gaeilge has produced a letter calling for a commissioner to be created in Northern Ireland, signed by language commissioners from six other countries.

It is no surprise that language commissioners support the concept of a language commissioner. However, the signature of the Welsh incumbent deserves a footnote.

In 2017, a review found giving the Welsh commissioner strong enforcement powers had been counterproductive to the growth of the language by creating too much of a compliance burden on public bodies.

The review proposed abolishing the post entirely via a new Welsh Language Act with more ambitious targets for numbers of speakers.

Ministers in Cardiff accepted this proposal and only dropped it three months ago after ill-advised lobbying.

However, curtailing the commissioner's powers is still on the cards.

More awareness of this debate could help all sides in Northern Ireland towards a compromise. We are endlessly told to learn from the Welsh example.

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Agenda-setting is everywhere. The Department of Health has published a video promoting its work on NHS reform and its top civil servant has said while this will stop waiting lists growing, a one-off injection of £1 billion is needed to clear the backlog.

With the DUP-Tory confidence and supply deal due for renewal next month, it looks like the department is getting its bid in early.

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Ireland's minister for transport Shane Ross has shown remarkable forbearance after DUP leader Arlene Foster complained construction work at Dublin Port will damage Northern Ireland's cruise ship business, by reducing the number of liners visiting Ireland overall.

Ross sent a polite, detailed reply explaining how the Port of Cork and his officials will coordinate with the Port of Belfast to maintain capacity until work at Dublin is finished.

That work is only necessary because of Brexit, as more space is urgently needed for customs handling and new freight routes to France.

Given Foster's support for Brexit, Ross could have been forgiven for telling her to walk the plank.

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Sinn Féin has launched a rather audacious campaign in the Republic, blaming failure to tackle the housing crisis on one third of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs being landlords.

The party may hope this argument stops at the border. One quarter of Sinn Féin assembly members are residential landlords, according to Stormont's current register of interests, which does not require property owned by spouses or partners to be declared.

Only the DUP matches Sinn Féin for number of landlords, although as a slightly larger party its percentage is lower.

There are no publicly available statistics on landlordism among former IRA members and the IRA itself.

However, this has been alluded to in official monitoring reports and been the subject of police and assets recovery investigations.

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There is no pleasing Belfast's shopkeepers. They object to pedestrianisation, both in general and after the Primark fire in particular, on the disputable grounds that customers need to drive to the edge of the pavement.

Now a row has broken out over pavements in Belfast being blocked with advertising boards, Retail NI has coyly said it is not in favour of regulation, despite other cities banning the obstacles outright.

Retail NI has also responded to a proposed rating review this month by complaining its members have to compete with the internet. Is that why they want their own annoying pop-up ads?

newton@irishnews.com

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