NI secretary Karen Bradley accused of 'delaying' abuse compensation
Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been accused of using delaying tactics to stall legislation to compensate victims of institutional abuse.
It follows her decision to table 11 additional questions to the political parties about the proposed scheme.
The parties had reached agreement on four questions including increasing the minimum payout from £7,500 to £10,000.
Victims spokesman John McCourt said they were being subjected to "emotional blackmail".
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He said victims had little hope of getting the compensation they are entitled to.
After meeting victims' groups on Monday evening, Mrs Bradley said she understood "why feelings are so strong on this issue".
"They have been wronged and let down by the system too many times, and I want to make sure it doesn't happen to them again," she added.
However Mrs Bradley insisted that questions from civil servants about the redress scheme "must be answered by local politicians before we can consider legislation".
"The system needs to be fair, robust and able to deliver for victims and survivors," she added.
After talks on Monday, the five main political parties criticised Mrs Bradley for her decision to table extra questions.
Sinn Féin's vice-president Michelle O'Neill said it felt like a delaying tactic and that the news will only add to the suffering of the victims.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann also accused the secretary of state of holding up the process.
Alliance's deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "In no way shape or form should victims be used as a pawn in the political process."
Earlier, former DUP minister Edwin Poots said he spoke to Mrs Bradley over the weekend, and urged her to bring forward the legislation without further delay.
He added that she "cannot use the victims as a battering ram to get the parties to do other things".
Mr McCourt, a spokesman for victims, said they may have to wait up to 12 months to get compensation for the abuse they suffered.
A tearful Mr McCourt said the secretary of state had admitted that she is not in charge of the timetable and suggested a restored executive could act within weeks
He said it now rests with Mrs Bradley to await the answers to the additional 11 questions.
He warned that some victims may not be alive by the time legislation goes through Westminster
Mrs Bradley defended the decision to release more questions, saying she wanted to conclude the process as quickly as possible.
"The Executive Office will send the questions that remain to be answered shortly so that they can be discussed at the next meeting of the Programme for Government working group," she said in a statement on Monday night.
"I believe this the quickest route to get victims and survivors the redress they deserve."
Marty Adams, who suffered abuse in Rathgael Training School in Bangor, said Mrs Bradley had "failed to deliver".
Mr Adams, who is a representative of the Survivors Together group, said he had told the secretary of state he had "no confidence" in her.
He suggested victims might be better served pursuing compensation through the courts.
Compensation for victims was recommended in 2017 after a public inquiry into abuse at children's homes and other residential institutions run by the state, churches and charities.
But the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont collapsed just days after the inquiry report was published, stalling the plans for compensation.