Northern Ireland

Historical abuse compensation: Call for Westminster to act

Sir Anthony Hart Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was set up to examine allegations of child abuse in children's homes and other institutions

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has formally asked the secretary of state to progress legislation through Westminster to compensate victims of Historical Institutional Abuse.

Payments to victims were recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry in 2017.

But power sharing at Stormont collapsed days later, and the issue was stalled.

BBC News NI has obtained a letter from David Sterling to a victims' group.

In the letter, Mr Sterling says he made the compensation request to Karen Bradley last week.

It follows the completion of a public consultation on the matter, which had been extended earlier this year.

The letter says 562 responses to the consultation were received.

When Mr Sterling extended the consultation by a month in February, he said it was "vital" all voices of victims and survivors were heard.

The Executive Office has now analysed all of the responses, and Mr Sterling's letter to the victims' group said his department stands ready to assist the secretary of state in any way it can "administratively".

His letter says that he made clear to Mrs Bradley the need to "bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion, particularly given the age profiles of those involved".

Mr Sterling said he would also write to all the main Stormont party leaders to keep them informed.

Image caption David Sterling has said it is "vital" victims have a chance to respond.

Last month, during a legal bid to force the Northern Ireland secretary to introduce compensation payments, it emerged that as many as 30 survivors of historical institutional abuse have died since the inquiry ended two years ago.

The legal bid by survivors of historical institutional abuse was unsuccessful, with a High Court judge ruling that there was no unlawful failure to act by either Mrs Bradley or Stormont's Executive Office.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office confirmed that Mr Sterling had written to Mrs Bradley asking her to push legislation through Parliament.

They added that the responses to the public consultation on the issue will be published by the Executive Office on Monday.

'Moral responsibility'

The HIA inquiry was set up by Stormont leaders to investigate allegations of abuse in children's residential homes run by religious, charitable and state organisations.

Its remit covered a 73-year period, from the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1922 through to 1995.

In November 2018, three pieces of proposed legislation aimed at dealing with outstanding issues around historical institutional abuse were published by the Executive Office.

At the time, Mr Sterling told BBC News NI that Mrs Bradley had a "moral responsibility" to take action on the issue from Westminster, if Stormont had not been restored by the end of the consultation process.

However, Mrs Bradley has always said compensation remains a matter for devolved government.

A Government spokesman said: "The secretary of state is determined to see the recommendations of the Hart report implemented as quickly as possible.

"She will set out next steps shortly."

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