Leading article

Opinion: Sir Anthony Hart's plan needs urgent implementation

Sir Anthony Hart recommended tax-free lump sum payments for all survivors of historical abuse. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart provided an outstanding act of public service through his chairmanship of the biggest child abuse inquiry ever held in the UK.

It is a particularly cruel outcome that Sir Anthony has now died, as have at least 30 victims who gave evidence during the investigation, but the firm and clear recommendations he made almost three years ago have yet to be implemented.

Sir Anthony, who passed away yesterday at the age of 73, had been a judge for almost three decades before he was appointed to head the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) in 2012.

It was a massive task, involving grave allegations linked to 22 different institutions over a period between 1922 and 1995, but he pursued it with great diligence and sensitivity.

The investigation heard harrowing testimonies which demonstrated that children’s homes run by religious organisations - predominantly the Catholic Church - charities and state institutions were the scene of prolonged and widespread abuse against young residents.

Sir Anthony and his colleagues were based in Belfast but travelled across the UK and Ireland, and as far away as Australia, in the course of engaging with almost 500 witnesses over nearly five years.

He eventually formally proposed in January, 2017, that compensation of up to £100,000 should be paid to the survivors, that they should receive a public apology and that a permanent memorial recognising their ordeal should be created.

However, in the absence of a devolved administration at Stormont, a deeply frustrating stalemate has followed and the measures contained in the Hart report have not been delivered.

It is shocking that the authorities have left the victims in such a cruel position, and it must be hoped that Brendan McAllister, who was last week appointed as commissioner for survivors of institutional abuse, a post which was an integral part of Sir Anthony’s plan, can move events forward.

Mr McAllister has said that his priority is to see legislation passed at Westminster which will help all those who have suffered down the decades, and it is essential that his aim is realised in the short term.

Such an outcome would be a fitting tribute to the work of Sir Anthony, who, in the words of the group Survivors Together yesterday, believed the victims and delivered the truth when others failed.

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