Abuse victims should receive compensation up to £114,000

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By Michael McHugh, PA

Victims of the worst historical institutional abuse should receive compensation worth more than £100,000, their main advocate in Northern Ireland said.

Payments of up to £80,000 were recommended three years ago by the late judge Sir Anthony Hart's public inquiry into physical, sexual and emotional wrongdoing at residential homes for children run by religious orders and the state.

Since then the upper limit in other civil legal cases has been increased by more than a third.

Interim victims' advocate Brendan McAllister said: "My legal advice is that, all things considered, the cap should have been raised from £80,000 to somewhere between £109,000 and £114,000.

"This would have made better provision for the most egregious cases and, perhaps most significantly, I believe it would have increased the average HIA payment."

Legislation was quickly passed at Westminster last November at the urging of those who suffered harm.

Mr McAllister told Stormont Assembly members he had conferred with leaders of survivors' groups.

"They are conscious that if the Assembly had been restored in time to pass the HIA legislation, I would have been making a case to you for the maximum payment of £80,000 to be raised to somewhere between £109,000 and £114,000.

"However, the HIA groups recognise that the imperative must be to get the redress scheme up and running as quickly as possible and so they are willing to accept the prospect of the amounts being paid out being less than what they might have been."

It is planned the first compensation payments will be made this spring.

The overall cost of the special pensions could be around £100 million, an Executive Office official said, and the institutions involved have been "cooperative" in initial discussions about contributing.

Some harmed during their stay in institutions decades ago have died while awaiting payments.

The Assembly was suspended for three years before its restoration last month.

Mr McAllister addressed the Executive Office scrutiny committee at Stormont.

When the HIA bill was on its way into Parliament he became concerned that, with the lapse of time since Judge Hart's report in 2017, the upper limit of £80,000 proposed and laid down in the bill might not be a proper reflection of today's levels of payment.

He added: "I feel it important to put this matter on the public record today.

"At a time when there are pressures on the public purse, the cost of the oncoming HIA scheme could have been significantly higher than what it is."

Compensation was among recommendations in the final report of the HIA Inquiry.

It examined allegations of abuse of children in residential institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.

Sir Anthony also recommended that a commissioner for survivors of institutional abuse be appointed.

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