Leading article

Bradley has moral duty to compensate HIA survivors

KAREN Bradley's tenure as secretary of state has been characterised by a series of gaffes and political blunders.

Any one of these would have caused a more circumspect politician to at least pause and reflect on their position.

She admitted, for example, that when she was appointed to the post she did not know that "people who are nationalists don't vote for unionist parties and vice versa".

This was an astonishing disclosure for any MP, let alone one assigned to the Northern Ireland Office.

Earlier this year - when one might have expected Mrs Bradley to be fully across her brief - she told the House of Commons that Troubles killings by the police and the army were "not crimes" and were in fact the result of police officers and soldiers acting "in a dignified and appropriate way".

With issues around the prosecution of soldiers to the fore, this was a catastrophic blunder; she apologised, though even that was not straightforward.

On the same day she also told the Commons that the north's five main political parties were unanimous in supporting the government's position that the publication of political donations should not be backdated; but the Alliance Party has campaigned vigorously for full transparency.

However, Mrs Bradley's latest intervention is perhaps the most troubling yet, and almost inexplicable in its crassness.

Among the many matters mired in deadlock in the wake of Stormont's collapse early in 2017 were compensation payments to victims of historical institutional abuse.

Not only are the payments entirely uncontroversial, but there is also a clear moral imperative for the state to offer redress to those who suffered the most horrendous treatment in its institutions.

A memorial and public apology to abuse survivors were among the recommendations made by Sir Anthony Hart, the retired judge who chaired the inquiry, but in Stormont's absence, Mrs Bradley's consistent refusal to move legislation at Westminster to allow compensation payments to be made has created a shamefully appalling situation.

Mrs Bradley's latest cynical proposal is that the best way to progress the compensation is to make it part of the latest round of Stormont talks.

This suggests that the political parties need to reach agreement on the redress payments, when in fact it is one of the few matters on which they are united; as David Sterling, the head of the civil service, said last week, historical institutional abuse "transcends politics".

Little wonder the survivors say they feel like they are being used as "a blackmail tool" in the Stormont talks.

It may be too late for Mrs Bradley to salvage her political dignity, but she can still immediately ensure that abuse survivors are compensated. It is the right thing to do.

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