Like others I have followed the progress of the Historic Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland with great interest. I represented dozens of claimants through the Republic’s redress scheme between 2001 and 2005 and know how successful a redress scheme can be.
I hold out the Republic’s scheme as probably the fairest and best scheme I have worked with. Why was it so good ? Well – claimants got the opportunity to tell their full story not only to their solicitor and psychologist but to a panel of judges who were always attentive, interested and fair. Claimants were treated like VIPs. Their every need was attended to by the superb staff at the Redress Board offices in Clonskeagh outside Dublin. This is how it should be.
So what happened with the Northern Ireland redress scheme ?
It took the government far too long to set it up for a start. Many who suffered in NI institutions have died between the Republic’s scheme ending and 2020 when the NI scheme started. The delay is unforgivable. Whatever the politics of Northern Ireland, child victims of institutional abuse deserve swift redress. The Westminster government should have stepped in much earlier. Throughout those agonising 15 years of delay a couple of women I was in touch with rightly complained about the hardship they were suffering. I know of one man who made it his life’s work to expose Rubane House and sadly died without redress in 2009.
I had high hopes for the redress scheme that emerged from the Northern Ireland Inquiry. I hoped it would be the equal of the Republic’s scheme with the ability to have a solicitor piece together a full statement, to obtain records and a psychological report and with a fair system of points resulting in awards which in my experience ranged between 30,000 and 110,000 euro. Solicitors in the Republic’s scheme would feel confident they were able to do a good and thorough job. This would give survivors the best chance of proper redress for the de-humanising experience most children had in these institutions.
So what did the Northern Ireland Redress scheme give us ?
A decision-making process shrouded in mystery. No transparent points-based system. Claimants not encouraged to send in detailed statements of their experiences. Redress administrators decide whether a psychological report is appropriate. And finally the legal costs range from £298 to £911 as compared to an average in the Republic’s scheme of around £6,000.
Why do these things matter so much ?
They matter because survivors of state-sponsored child abuse deserve to tell their stories and get recognition from someone in authority. This doesn’t happen with the NI scheme. Very few eyeball-to-eyeball hearings will take place and many survivors will feel this is unacceptable.
An analysis of a survivor’s psychological make up and how it has been shaped by childhood experiences is denied to most claimants. A look back at life trajectory and missed opportunities receives no analysis unless the solicitor is willing to go the extra mile (at effectively no charge). The current legal costs allowed effectively restrict solicitors to two or three hours’ work which is totally inadequate to enable the necessary work to be done. Solicitors will inevitably do minimal work. This will translate into survivors getting second class justice.
I have set out my concerns twice to the redress administrators and have been told the rules will not be changing. I am not prepared to do a second class job for my clients and be faced to date with effective losses of £3-4,000 on each case. I have decided not to take on new Northern Ireland redress cases.
I am sure the staff on the redress admin team are good people but the lack of investigation of psychological effects and a fair and transparent points system remain major deficiencies of this scheme.