Judge to be appointed ‘by end of week’ on NI abuse compensation panel

Judge to be appointed ‘by end of week’ on NI abuse compensation panel
Institutional abuse campaigners including Margaret McGuckin (third left) after meeting the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service David Sterling at Stormont today.

A judge to lead the panel overseeing compensation payments for institutional abuse victims in Northern Ireland will be appointed by the end of this week, a campaigner has said.

An independent redress board is to be established and may include representatives with social work and medical backgrounds or experience of dealing with trauma.

Officials were unable to guarantee payments will be made before Christmas but said they were driving the process forward during meetings with abuse survivors who are pressing for speedy action.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan said: “Today I felt there were the first movements of some positive soundings, it is clear that the legislation having been passed and the outcome of the Court of Appeal judgment has resulted in a flurry of activity, which would have been welcome a long time ago.

“It is clear there are now further resources added to its team and what we have been told is that the president of the redress board will be in place by the end of this week, that will be a judge.

“David Sterling has advised us that he has been in communication with the Lord Chief Justice’s office, who have assured him that they will provide a judge by the end of this week.”

The judge will appoint two more panel members, one perhaps a social worker and the other with a medical background, Ms McKeegan added.

Under legislation passed at Westminster the board would pay historical abuse victims an upfront £10,000 (€11,500) ahead of fuller compensation assessments.

Survivors’ campaigner Margaret McGuckin said civil servants should work overtime to ensure the money is available to the most needy and vulnerable before Christmas.

She added: “It would be the best Christmas box they have ever had in their lives.”

She said some survivors had nothing.

They are unemployable, so many have serious mental health issues, and this is made worse by this ongoing suffering and stalling.

“They really want to have some comfort, to pay for electric, oil, some heating, for food.

“Most of these people have been going to food banks, it is a disgrace the way they have been left languishing in further pain and suffering because these people have not done their job and done what was right for these people.”

The payments were recommended following a major public inquiry in 2017 but never enacted following the collapse of devolved government at Stormont and the absence of ministers.

Legislation was passed at Westminster shortly before the British Parliament was dissolved for the UK's General Election.

Head of the Civil Service David Sterling said: “There are a number of critical steps that must now be undertaken and the Executive Office is working closely with other Northern Ireland Civil Service departments and the interim (victims) advocate (Brendan McAllister) to drive these forward.

“The focus is on ensuring victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible.”

Recently the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland ruled that the Executive Office has the power to introduce the compensation scheme in the absence of ministers.

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