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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

'Inappropriate' for UK to approve compensation to victims of NI historical abuse

Written by Jon Vale and Richard Wheeler

It would be "constitutionally inappropriate" if the UK Government stepped in to approve the payment of compensation to victims of historical abuse in Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley has said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary also indicated she would consider any proposals from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service as a result of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry.

The inquiry, chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart, was set up to examine allegations of child abuse in children's homes and other institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.

The collapse of devolution last year has led to a delay in implementing Sir Anthony's findings.

Independent North Down MP Lady Hermon raised the issue with Ms Bradley in the Commons, saying money had been allocated for the preparation and implementation of Sir Anthony's report and findings.

Ms Bradley (pictured) said: "What this Bill does is agrees the money that has already been spent in regard to the Hart inquiry.

"That was an inquiry set up by the executive and therefore it is quite right that in this Bill we agree that that money that has already been spent has been properly and lawfully spent.

"In terms of the treatment of the victims of historical abuse, and she will know, as we all do, that we all wish to see those victims see the justice that they so rightly deserve.

"But she will also know that this was an inquiry set up by the executive, and it is therefore quite right that it should be, the recommendations dealt with by the executive.

"It is a great shame that we don't have an executive to deal with these things. It would be constitutionally inappropriate for this House to determine the actions that should be taken in regards to those recommendations, because this House did not set up that inquiry.

"It was set up by the executive and that is the right place for the recommendations to be considered and decisions taken about those recommendations."

The public inquiry recommended providing compensation, a memorial and a public apology to abuse survivors.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith said the HIA inquiry was among areas of public spending which could have been dealt with in more detail.

The Labour MP said his impression after hearing recent evidence from David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, was that he was preparing legislation in respect of the HIA.

"He said explicitly that if there's no executive in place, by the summer was the implication, as that's when the legislation is going to be ready, then he will be asking the Secretary of State to bring forward legislation in Westminster in order to give effect to the recommendations of the Hart inquiry," said Mr Smith.

Ms Bradley said she had heard Mr Sterling's evidence and spoken to him about the issue, adding: "Constitutionally this is an inquiry set up by the executive. It reported to the executive. Unfortunately the executive was unable to take decisions before it collapsed on the recommendations.

"And he will understand ... that the constitutional implications of the Westminster Parliament or Government taking a decision about something set up by a devolved institution are not ones to be taken lightly.

"But, of course, if David Sterling should write to me making specific requests, I would consider them at that point."

Mr Smith replied: "I don't think that's good enough. I do believe this is an issue where those people have waited long enough."

The comments came as MPs debated the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.

Ms Bradley said the Bill would provide legal spending authority for civil servants in Northern Ireland over the past year and for the first few months of the forthcoming financial year.

A further Bill outlining a budget for Northern Ireland next year will be brought forward at Westminster in the summer if devolved government has not been restored at Stormont, said Ms Bradley.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Michael Cooper / PA Wire.