Northern Ireland introduced a national redress scheme for survivors of historical child sexual abuse in 2019 through the introduction of The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019.
The Act followed The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry which closed in June 2017 after 223 days of hearings. The Inquiry investigated 22 institutions in Northern Ireland, the circumstances surrounding the sending of child migrants from Northern Ireland to Australia and the activities of the late Father Brendan Smyth.
The inquiry covered the abuse of children under 18 who lived in children’s homes, borstals, training schools, juvenile justice centres, hospitals and orphanages between 1922 and 1995 in Northern Ireland.
In the final report, the inquiry made a number of recommendations including service provision and specialist care for people who had been abused, a statutory commissioner for survivors of institutional childhood abuse, annual grant funding for the Child Migrants Trust and financial compensation to be administered by a redress board.
The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 provides the legal framework for the establishment of the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board.
“The Redress Board is responsible for receiving and processing applications for compensation from those who experienced abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995,” the Board states.
A three-person panel consider applications submitted by paper. The panel consists of a judicial member, who chairs the panel, and two non-judicial members from a health and social care background.
The Redress Board is a ‘body corporate’ and operates independently from the Department of Justice and the Executive Office although TEO carries out the administration functions of the board.
On 15 November 2019, the Honourable Mr Justice Colton was appointed as President elect and the Redress Board was established on 31 March 2020. On 8 January 2021, the Lord Chief Justice announced that the Honourable Mr Justice Huddleston had been appointed as President and would take up the role with immediate effect.
The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 sets out the amounts of compensation that the Redress Board can award which are:
- A standard award payment of £10,000 only;
- An enhanced award payment of between £10,001 and £80,000; and
- An amount of £20,000 if the application is made by or in respect of a person who was sent to Australia under the Child Migrant Programme.
Victims and survivors can apply for redress if they suffered abuse while a child and resident in an institution in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 and/or were sent to Australia under the Child Migrant Programme.
Individuals can apply on behalf of someone who died on, or after, 28 April 1953 if they are the deceased persons surviving spouse, civil partner, cohabiting partner or surviving child.
First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced the appointment of Fiona Ryan as Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse in October 2020 and she took up the five-year post on 14 December.
The main aim of the COSICA in exercising functions under the Act is to promote the interests of any person who suffered abuse while a child and while resident in an institution at some time between 1922 and 1995.
Fiona Ryan was previously the Chief Executive of Sonas Domestic Violence Charity, the largest provider of frontline support services to women and child victims of domestic abuse in Ireland.
In October, the deputy first minister also confirmed that 579 applications to the redress board for payments had been made since it opened in March. Last month, speaking for the first time since taking up the role, Fiona Ryan confirmed that more than £5m had been paid out to applicants since March.
Interim Victims' Advocate Brendan McAllister came under fire last year when a monthly newsletter was sent out without the names of victims of abuse being anonymised. Some of the individuals whose identities were revealed had been part of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry and had chosen to remain anonymous. The email was signed by a staff member but sent on behalf of Interim Victims' Advocate Brendan McAllister, who apologised for the breach and said steps were being taken to investigate how it occurred.