Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade) 2:29 pm, 5th November 2019

Absolutely. I was involved in this process right from the start, seven years ago. I pay tribute to the right hon. Peter Robinson and the late Martin McGuinness, because I was present at the meeting when the victims and survivors came in and told us of the terrible, terrible experiences they went through, and both those men were genuinely moved. Who could not be moved by hearing those personal experiences and the terrible wrongs? But both of those men were very moved, and they worked together, and tasked me and some others to go away and try to drive this work forward. Throughout those seven years, civil servants at all levels, the late Judge Hart and all those who gave support and help were really motivated to get through the process and to do so swiftly, because they had heard the terrible things that had happened and had seen the injustice that they wanted to address.

I have to say that I am angry that it has taken this long to get to this point of redress. The inquiry was unusual in that the timeframe was put down in legislation. The late Judge Hart made it absolutely clear that, yes, he would request the extension that he was allowed by the legislation, but he would also meet the timeframes set out, so we always knew when the inquiry was going to report, because he made that clear. I and others made representations to those who pulled down the Assembly, asking them not to do so in order to allow the report to come forward, and I am genuinely angry that it happened. I am angry that we have had to wait for those years for the victims and survivors to get the redress they deserve and that we knew was coming.

But today is not a day about recriminations. In fact, this has been a good example of how the political parties can work together and the difference that they can make—not, perhaps, on the bigger issues that will always be challenging, but on these types of significant issues that are so meaningful to people’s lives.

I pay tribute to all the victims and survivors, who have been on this journey right from the start, including Margaret, Kate, Gerry and Jon McCourt, all of whom have been mentioned in this debate. They have done incredible work because they have represented not just themselves, but the many thousands of victims across Northern Ireland—in fact, across the world—who perhaps could not step forward. They were brave enough to do so no matter how difficult it was, and it must have been incredibly difficult for them to tell their own stories again and again and again to try to get the inquiry and the justice they deserved.

I have been involved in this process for seven years, so it is really good to see it come to an end today, but the victims and survivors have been involved for decades and decades before that. As I have said in the House many times, many of these children came from very challenging and difficult circumstances, and what they needed was love, protection and support. But when we read the report and listen to their experiences, we know that what they got was cruelty, depravity and harshness. That is appalling. Right from that very first meeting with Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, those who were in the room were absolutely struck that the right thing to do was to try to get justice for the victims. There is very broad consensus on that in every political party and right across this House.

I pay tribute to all the victims and survivors. This is not the end of their journey. They will continue with all the pain and suffering—the legacy of what happened to them. I hope that this redress and financial support—and what it symbolises—will be of some comfort, as well as a recognition of their hard and incredible work to stand up and address the terrible, terrible wrong that was done to them and many thousands of other children.