The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill received a second reading in the House of Lords on the 28 October 2019. The Northern Ireland Office minister, Lord Duncan of Springbank, said that the victims had been “left hanging” for too long and he confirmed that the government would move the Bill along as swiftly as possible to try to have the terms implemented.
The Bill reflects the recommendations made by Sir Anthony Hart in the findings and recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI). Those recommendations were placed before the NI Executive in 2017 but following a dispute between Sinn Fein and the DUP, the Executive and Assembly collapsed shortly afterwards and before any steps could be taken to implement any of the recommendations.
The Bill specifically addresses the two main recommendations in the report. It will set up a Redress Board and create a statutory office of a Commissioner for Victims. The presentation and quick passing of the second reading will be welcomed by the various survivor and victim groups who have campaigned since 2017 for progress on the recommendations.
The Bill almost completely mirrors the recommendations of the HIAI save that the “entry level” of compensation for those who can show exposure to an abusive environment has increased from the £7500 recommended to £10,000. The upper levels of compensation remain as recommended with former residents able to receive up to a further £70,000 if they suffered more extreme abuse with those sent away on Migrant Schemes entitled to a further £20,000.
This means that the maximum payouts will be £80,000 for residents and £100,000 for those who went abroad under the schemes.
The Bill also creates the position of Commissioner and sets up the statutory office which will be an independent office and will have its own staff and budget.
The Lords urged that the Bill progress quickly to avoid getting caught up in the “wash-up” created for legislation not completed in view of the December election. Lord Empey said that should this happen it would be cruel to the victims who await the passing of the act. The Bill could be re-cycled in a new parliament but there would be a further inevitable delay while a new Government was formed and a new Queen’s Speech prepared and presented in the next Parliament.
All eyes will now be on Westminster as the repercussions of the Brexit debates and December election are felt across the legislative arena.
Written by Ciara McReynolds at BLM