In 2017 Sir Anthony Hart completed his report following several years of evidence into residential homes and the systemic failings identified in the management and control of those homes. The NI Executive collapsed over differences between parties and has not been restored for almost three years now.
Campaigners feared the legislation needed to implement the Redress Scheme and appointment of a Commissioner to represent their interests would fail as a result of the turmoil created by Brexit and the calling of the election on 12 December but in almost unprecedented scenes the Bill passed and received Royal Assent just before the Parliament was dissolved.
The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill passed through the Commons yesterday before Parliament was dissolved in preparation for the December elections. This paves the way for the creation of a Redress Panel and the appointment of a Commissioner for Victims of residential Institutional abuse as recommended by Sir Anthony Hart in 2017.
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
Brendan McAllister was appointed Interim Advocate by David Sterling last month and has now taken up his post.
Mr McAllister will retain this post until a Statutory Commissioner has been appointed as directed under the HIAI report. Mr McAllister said “I am honoured and humbled to have been appointed to this important role as a representative voice for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse…There is much work to be done and I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead but I am absolutely committed to being a strong, dedicated and supportive voice”.
The HIAI made recommendations in their final report presented to the NI Executive in January 2017. Shortly after the Executive collapsed over a renewable heat scheme and has not returned. Divisions between the main parties seem as wide now as they were then and there is little prospect of an imminent return.
A proposed draft of the necessary legislation to implement the HIAI recommendations was completed towards the end of 2018 and a consultation process completed this year. There were a number of core issues addressed by the former residents both individually and through their support groups with the main contention being an increase in the basic award or “common experience” payment levels.
This report starts first with a comment on the sad death of Sir Anthony Hart, the Chairman of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry. He died suddenly on Tuesday. Sir Anthony was a well respected member of the Bar and retained that respect as a county court Judge, Recorder of Derry and Belfast and, subsequently, a High Court Judge. Our sympathies go to his wife, family friends and colleagues.
In the same week, the Northern Ireland Select Committee heard evidence from Jon McCourt (Survivors North West), Gerry McCann (Rosetta Trust), Professor Patricia Lundy (Ulster University and Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty). The Committee recommended that the Redress Scheme (recommended by the HIAI) be progressed through Parliament as quickly as possible. This recommendation was originally contained in the recommendations of the HIAI, lead by Sir Anthony, published in January 2017. The collapse of the NI Assembly shortly after that means there has been little or no progress since then.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, made a number of announcements on the 6 September 2018 concerning the political impasse in Northern Ireland. While the cut to the pay of the MLAs made the headlines it was the discussion about the role of the Civil Service and decision making powers that may be of significantly greater relevance. Continue reading