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HIA Compensation Payments

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 17th February 2020.

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Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 17th February 2020

3. Mr McGuigan asked the Minister of Justice to outline any discussions her Department has had with victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse (HIA) to ensure the roll-out of the compensation payments meets their needs. (AQO 126/17-22)

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

The Executive Office has policy, statutory and budgetary responsibility for the establishment of the redress board and has been leading engagement with victims and survivors' groups. However, my Department is working diligently to establish the redress board and to support Justice Colton to discharge his functions as president-elect of that board.

The president-elect has met the Interim Advocate appointed to act as the voice of victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse and to ensure that their needs are known and communicated, pending the appointment of a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse, on a number of occasions to discuss the remit of the board. He also met representatives of each of the victims and survivors' groups on 18 December 2019 to discuss a number of issues, including the board's intended approach to the payment of compensation.

Redress board officials are in regular contact with the Interim Advocate's office, and a very helpful meeting with victims' groups to discuss the content of the application form took place on 21 January. A further three meetings based on agendas proposed by the Interim Advocate are scheduled to take place this month to help to inform the board's emerging procedures and guidance. The president-elect is content that any issues raised by the groups about the redress board's emerging procedures should be shared with redress board officials via the Interim Advocate's office. Redress board officials will continue to engage with the groups through the Interim Advocate to ensure that the redress scheme meets their needs.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Like others have done, I welcome the Minister to her first Question Time. I congratulate her on her new job and wish her well.

I thank the Minister for her full answer, in which she mentioned the application form. Will she clarify whether the groups will get sight of the application form before it is published?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I mentioned that three further meetings would take place by the end of February. I am not clear as to whether the application form will be the subject of discussion at those meetings, but I will check and revert to the Member in writing to confirm that with him one way or the other.

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

I, too, welcome the Minister to her new post. Following the letter from the head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, to six institutions in late 2019 that stated that institutions had an obligation to contribute to payments for victims, will she outline what discussions she has had with Executive colleagues regarding contributions from such institutions towards compensation for victims of HIA?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

As I said at the outset, the Executive Office has the policy, statutory and budgetary responsibility for the establishment of the redress board. That question would be best placed with the Executive Office and the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

Will the Minister confirm that there will be no delay in compensation payments and that the first payments will be made by the end of March?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

My understanding is that the payments will be done by the end of April. The board will be open to receive application forms by the end of March. Applicants will then be dealt with as swiftly as they can be, but that will depend, obviously, on the volume and complexity of the applications that are received.

In deciding the priority order of applications to be processed, the board will have due regard to the age and health of the applicant. It will be possible to submit application forms online or on paper. It is anticipated that the panel will sit to determine the first payments from 20 April and those first payments will be made in early May.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Like previous Members, I take the opportunity to welcome the Minister, a colleague of mine, to her post, and I wish her well for the future.

Can I ask for clarification from the Minister whether those who have already given evidence to the Hart inquiry will also be required to give evidence again to the redress board?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

That will not be the case. Applicants who gave evidence to the Hart inquiry will not be required to provide further written evidence to the redress board unless they wish to do so. They will be asked if they are content for the redress board to determine their application on the basis of the evidence of the Hart inquiry, and the redress board will then obtain a copy of that from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland on the applicant's behalf.