Northern Ireland news

Institutional abuse legislation expected to be included in Queen's Speech

Institutional abuse campaigner Margaret McGuckin. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker

LEGISLATION to compensate survivors of institutional abuse is expected to form part of the Queen's Speech in October.

Survivors had feared that the suspension of parliament next month would effectively scupper a planned compensation bill.

But sources have told The Irish News that redress for abuse victims will form part of the Queen's Speech, which sets out the government's legislative agenda for the coming parliament, on October 14.

Westminster returns from recess on Tuesday but, just days later, will be suspended for five weeks following an intervention from prime minister Boris Johnson.

Margaret McGuckin, of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said the legislation must be introduced as early as possible.

"We would prefer if the legislation is introduced next month," she said.

"We are still hoping for that. October is the latest we will tolerate. But as long as it doesn't fall we're content.

"It is now almost three years since Stormont fell. Our people have been waiting and waiting since then.

"They thought there was light at the end of the tunnel but their hopes have been dashed again and again."

The group has written to MPs asking them to back the bill when it goes before parliament.

"We are also asking that the legislation is fast-tracked to get the Redress Board up and running as this will take time, and so any further delays within the parliamentary process just cause more pain and heartache," the letter read.

"The content of the draft bill has been agreed by politicians locally and so we would ask that you ensure that the bill is insulated from any political interference on the floor of the Commons, and we believe that fast-tracking is the best way to achieve this."

It is more than two-and-a-half 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.

It recommended compensation payments, an apology and care packages for victims and survivors. But the process stalled due to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

Secretary of State Julian Smith yesterday reiterated that the compensation bill needs to be put before Westminster as soon as possible.

"Last week I committed to supporting victims and survivors of Historical Institutional Abuse to secure the redress they urgently need," he said.

"I met Brendan McAllister today and reassured him my position is exactly the same. We need to see the HIA bill introduced at the earliest opportunity."

Mr McAllister, the interim victims' advocate, said he was reassured by Mr Smith's commitment.

"He has assured me that he will do his best to introduce the HIA bill in the near future and has committed to working closely with me and with victims' groups moving forward," he said.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan, who represents the majority of abuse victims, said survivors urgently need redress.

"For too long the survivors have been given open ended commitments by the state regarding the delivery of the redress and care that they are owed and deserve," she said.

"At every turn they have been let down.

"Provision of the redress is entirely possible and achievable if the will is there to deliver."

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