Minister accused of emotional blackmail over compensation for NI abuse victims

The Secretary of State is emotionally blackmailing survivors of abuse in Northern Ireland, a campaigner has claimed.

Jon McCourt choked back tears as he accused Karen Bradley of delaying compensation payments to those harmed while in institutions run by religious orders or the state.

Stormont’s main parties reached agreement on four questions including increasing the minimum payout to those who suffered from £7,500 to £10,000.

Eleven extra queries were later raised which will have to be addressed. The DUP predicted this would be within two days.

There could follow a lengthy legislative process at Westminster due to the suspension of Stormont powersharing.

Mrs Bradley (pictured) insisted she was committed to resolving the issues as soon as possible but needed answers to “fundamental” questions.

Mr McCourt said: “It is a form of emotional blackmail. And it doesn’t just hurt us, because we are the people who had to listen to it, I know there will be people who will be hurt by what we are delivering to them today.

“All I can do and all we can do is say we are fighting the best fight we can, we’ll take them on, we’ll take it to the end but, unfortunately, we have no idea when that end is going to be.

“By the time we get there we won’t have as many people as we have today.”

Compensation payments, a public apology, a memorial at Stormont and specialist care for victims were among recommendations made by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart.

He led a public inquiry into allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at residential homes runs by religious orders or the state since the foundation of Northern Ireland almost a century ago.

Mr McCourt grew up in St Joseph’s Termonbacca Catholic children’s home in Londonderry, where he said he was beaten by nuns for being left-handed.

He leads the Survivors North West group and said Mrs Bradley ruled out interim payments for older abuse victims and those with terminal illnesses.

Margaret McGuckin, from victims’ campaign group SAVIA, said she had been “shattered” by an assertion by Mrs Bradley that the legislation could take two years.

“This can is being kicked down the road further yet again,” she said.

“I know what they are up to. They are waiting still on the parties getting back together.”

Compensation payments recommended by the Stormont-commissioned Hart Inquiry have been on ice for two and a half years due to the collapse of the devolved institutions, and Mrs Bradley has been under mounting pressure to sanction the outstanding cash.

Facing calls to resign by abuse survivors, last week she pledged to legislate at Westminster but only once fundamental questions about the redress scheme were answered by the Stormont parties.

They surrounded the level of compensation for families of deceased victims, he make-up of a redress panel and who should be able to apply for redress.

The parties formulated a joint response and presented it to the Government on Monday ahead of a round-table meeting with Mrs Bradley.

Her later intervention with extra questions was condemned by Sinn Fein as a delaying tactic.

The party’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said: “I think it’s just not good enough.

“If there are 15 questions, why do we need to wait for Karen Bradley to decide to release the questions?”

Mrs Bradley said she was grateful that the party leaders came together and addressed some outstanding questions but there were more to be answered.

“Because I want to see redress for those victims of historical institutional abuse as quickly as possible and we need those fundamental questions to be answered.”

She added: “I understand why feelings are so strong on this issue and that’s why I want to ensure victims and survivors of abuse get the redress they deserve as quickly as possible.

“They have been wronged and let down by the system too many times, and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to them again.

“The system needs to be fair, robust and able to deliver for victims and survivors.”

Her officials will meet Sir Anthony on Tuesday.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said it was a disappointing stalling tactic, while nationalist SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused Mrs Bradley of “disgraceful behaviour”.

“This has been a mess, it has been a total mess.”

DUP Assembly member Edwin Poots said the response to the extra questions would be resolved within the next 48 hours.

He added that legislation could take at least a year to go through Westminster then six months to establish a redress panel.

He added: “In the absence of Stormont being established, victims should not be used as a battering ram or some sort of pawns in the process.”

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said the Government was “shifting goalposts”.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) David Young / PA Wire.