Northern Ireland news

Secretary of state has 'given his word' legislation to compensate abuse victims will be in Queen's Speech

Secretary of State Julian Smith. Picture by Mal McCann

LEGISLATION to release compensation payments for abuse victims will be included in the Queen's Speech, the secretary of state has insisted, following accusations the British government was "disrespectful" to drop a Westminster debate.

Compensation for institutional abuse victims was among five key Northern Ireland issues due to be discussed by MPs before parliament was officially prorogued on Monday night.

More than an hour had been timetabled for each debate, including human trafficking, gambling law reform and payments to Troubles victims.

However, time pressures saw the government only move one debate on efforts to restore the Stormont assembly.

Independent unionist MP Lady Hermon said it had sent out the signal that victims don't even merit a "90-minute debate".

The Irish News revealed earlier this month that redress legislation for victims of historical institutional abuse would be included in the Queen's Speech, which sets out the government's priorities for the coming parliament.

Secretary of State Julian Smith told Lady Hermon on Monday he had asked that legislation be included "as a matter of urgency".

Read More: Failure to compensate abuse victims shocking says Lord Chief Justice

But interim Victims Advocate Brendan McAllister wrote to Mr Smith saying "for the forseeable future the legislative path remains uncertain and potentially beyond your control".

He asked him to consider setting up an "administrative scheme which would give victims/survivors some certainty and timely assistance".

It is understood that such a scheme could include a £10,000 interim payment for survivors while they are waiting for redress legislation to be introduced.

The chairman of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry, the late Sir Anthony Hart, recommended compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors, but the legislation required was never introduced following the collapse of the Assembly.

Victims' campaigner Margaret McGuckin. Picture By Hugh Russell

The main political parties in Northern Ireland agreed at the beginning of June to give their assent to amendments to draft legislation, and the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling wrote to Mrs Bradley in July to outline the agreed position.

Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), who spoke to Mr Smith last night, said she was hopeful that interim payments will be authorised within weeks.

"It would be a gesture of goodwill and is something they should be doing," she said.

She said the cancellation of the debate had felt "like a kick in the teeth".

"I had let all the victims know it was going to be raised in the role of government, that was very meaningful to everyone - to be heard," she said.

"We've been kicked in the teeth so many times I've no teeth left."

However, she said she had been personally assured by Mr Smith and several of his special advisers that the legislation would be included in the Queen's Speech.

"He has given me his word," she said.

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