Religious institutions ‘willing to engage’ on payments to abuse victims in NI

Religious institutions ‘willing to engage’ on payments to abuse victims in NI

Stormont officials said religious institutions involved in paying redress to victims have been willing to come forward. Picture: Niall Carson/PA

Religious institutions have been willing to come forward to discuss compensating abuse victims, Stormont officials said.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill are set to kick off negotiations before the end of next month with Catholic religious orders, the Church of Ireland and children’s charity Barnardo’s.

More intensive talks will follow with the organisations which ran residential homes where wrongdoing occurred.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill are set to kick off negotiations before the end of next month (Liam McBurney/PA)

Executive Office official Mark Browne said: “They are meeting with six relevant institutions to emphasise the moral imperative and need to make progress.”

The state is covering the cost of payments to victims, which have already begun, but is attempting to recoup much of its outlay from those in charge of operating the institutions.

Another Executive Office official, Gareth Johnston, said: “All the institutions have been willing to come forward and engage.

“All have recognised that this is a critical issue and all have said that they will continue to engage with us as we enter into discussions and negotiation.”

He said they had a “critical role” to play in giving information to the redress board, which decides the awards, and commitments had been made.

Victims and survivors of abuse were paid £5.7 million between May and December last year.

Mr Johnston added: “All institutions are starting to raise a number of issues from their perspective.

“One has been the contributions that they have already made in terms of awards and in terms of services.”

The scheme became operational at the end of March when a redress board was established as part of recommendations made in the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry.

The HIA inquiry called for payments ranging from £7,500 to £100,000. Thousands of victims are believed to be eligible.

The abuse investigation, chaired by the late judge Sir Anthony Hart, also called for a memorial to the victims and a formal apology.

Mr Johnston said part-payments and annual contributions from the religious institutions could be considered.

A “central estimate” of the cost of redress is up to £400 million, Mr Browne added.

In the Republic, land was handed over in lieu of cash but then the value subsequently plummeted.

In other cases, old people’s homes were given but the state found them expensive to run and handed them back.

Mr Browne said: “All the early indications from the institutions have been positive.

“They have been cooperative in terms of providing information, they have been engaged and at this point we would want to proceed in the hope that we will be able to achieve an agreed outcome.”

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