Institutional abuse victims 'traumatised' by confusion over redress legislation, new advocate says
THE secretary of state must commit to introducing legislation to help survivors of institutional abuse, the newly-appointed advocate for victims has said.
Brendan McAllister met campaign groups after he was officially announced yesterday.
He will help lobby for legislation, meet victims and ensure their care is examined.
Although a permanent advocate cannot be appointed until legislation aimed at setting up a redress scheme for victims is passed, Mr McAllister has been given the interim role by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, David Sterling.
Mr McAllister told The Irish News that although he will not formally take up his post until August 12, he will start lobbying for legislation to be passed through Westminster.
"It's time to press the secretary of state, who will receive in these next days the draft legislation that has been worked on by officials and lawyers within the Executive Office."
He said he will ask the Northern Ireland Office today for a meeting with Karen Bradley and ask her to commit to redress legislation and indicate how long it will take to become law.
"They (victims) tell me they've had lots of promises and false dawns so they're at a stage now where they're getting a bit cynical and they need to see results."
He said his job will be to track victims' legislation through Westminster and keep survivors informed.
The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry recommended compensation payments to victims and survivors more than two years ago but the process stalled due to the impasse at Stormont.
The inquiry, headed by Sir Anthony Hart, also said a victims' advocate with statutory powers should be appointed.
Mr McAllister said he will act as an informal commissioner who is independent of government.
"But my understanding is with the head of the civil service and senior officials and hopefully with the Northern Ireland Office that I should be able to access the various departments of government here."
He said his role will be to "set things up" before a permanent advocate is appointed "so we're not starting from zero".
A former victims' commissioner, the 62-year-old said survivors' problems have been compounded by the collapse of Stormont and the subsequent "to-ing and fro-ing of who is responsible for bringing legislation forward".
"All of that has caused further trauma," he said.
Mr McAllister said he will examine what care is needed for individual victims.
"The last thing these people need is to be treated as a number."
Campaign group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia) met Mr McAllister yesterday.
Spokeswoman Margaret McGuckin said they welcomed the appointment but "it should have happened a long time ago".
"We have been the voice of victims and lobbying for 11 years," she said.
"We do believe he will do what is necessary and they will listen to him more than they listened to us. We impressed upon him the urgency of this legislation and asked him to state that when he meets the secretary of state."
Ms McGuckin said draft legislation must be handed to Mrs Bradley this week.
"It's been pushed back and pushed back," she said. "We don't want to hear that. What is keeping them?"