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Survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland to receive compensation

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Politicians in Westminster passed a bill to secure compensation for survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland on Tuesday 5 November. After years of campaigning from victims’ groups for a compensation scheme, it legislates for a board of redress to administer payments to survivors and a commissioner to support applicants.

The new bill follows recommendations laid out in the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry report from 2017. Hundreds of survivors applied to the Inquiry about abuse they experienced as children in children’s homes, training schools, borstals, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions between 1922 and 1995 in Northern Ireland.

Victim groups such as Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA), Survivors North West and the Rosetta Trust met with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith on Monday 4 November to push for the legislation to pass before parliament’s dissolution.

Cross–party support from peers and MPs ensured that the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Bill went through the Houses of Lords and Commons in record time.

Legislation had been delayed due to the dissolution of the Assembly at Stormont, until the UK government said it would take on the responsibility for enacting a compensation scheme this year. There were fears that the bill would be further delayed with the calling of a general election.

The Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Act sets out a redress board to be administered in Northern Ireland which will ensure that survivors receive a publicly–funded, tax–free lump sum payment. It will also create a statutory commissioner who will support applicants to the redress board.

On the same day, the Court of Appeal in Belfast decided that Stormont’s Executive Office could oversee the redress board in the absence of a sitting political Executive. The Court also stated that the experience of abuse survivors in Northern Irish state and church–run schools and children’s homes was “torture”.

The government estimates that there are around 5,000 people who could make use of the redress scheme. Of the 493 applicants to the HIA Inquiry, 91 lived in Britain.

Julian Smith has called for more survivors to apply to the redress board once it starts functioning. He said “No matter what country they live in, I would now urge all victims and survivors to apply.”

A redress board in the Republic of Ireland was set up in 2002 to make awards to survivors. By 2018, it had processed 16,650 applications for awards worth almost €970m. Survivors have also been supported by awards from Caranua, an independent state body.

Irish in Britain welcomes the new legislation. These needs remain a priority for us and our membership.