Declan Morgan: Stormont impasse cost for abuse victims ‘increasingly severe’

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The human cost of Stormont’s political impasse on victims of historical institutional abuse is becoming increasingly severe, Northern Ireland’s senior judge has said.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan again expressed intense frustration at the decision-making paralysis.

He acknowledged difficulties facing politicians in a divided society but said handling difficult and challenging disputes was a feature of life for judges.

“If, however, resolution is not possible there must be a fallback position, a decision-maker.

“The provision of political direction to the machinery of government is a requirement of a functioning democracy. It is not an optional extra.”

He said implementation of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry recommendations was urgent.

On its publication in January 2017, almost 20 months ago, over a third of those who had engaged with the inquiry were aged over 65, several had died and others were in very poor health.

Groups speaking on behalf of many of those who were in residential homes have made repeated pleas to have the recommendations acted on.

Sir Declan said: “Those pleas have been supported by all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland yet today those recommendations have still not been implemented and the human cost on those affected is increasingly severe.”

Stormont has not sat for more than a year and a half in a row between former coalition partners the DUP and Sinn Fein over identity issues like the Irish language.

The senior judge said there should be a process to address the problems facing powersharing.

“I shudder to think what message it sends to the thousands of young people leaving our shores for university or work, people that we should be trying to attract back to populate our legal and other services.”

His funding proposals to deal with inquests into some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles have met with political disagreement.

Sir Declan opened the new legal year at the law courts in Belfast and recalled his comments at the same event a year earlier in which he said the political impasse had stalled the reform agenda of the justice system.

On Wednesday he said: “Implicit in those remarks was an expectation that those responsible for giving political direction to the machinery of government would have devised a method of ensuring that those of us engaged in the provision of public services could continue to enhance and improve the quality of what we do.”

The Lord Chief Justice acknowledged the respect and sympathy he held for politicians seeking to deal with the evident divisions within the community.

“Equally I acknowledge the difficulty for civil servants responsible for day-to-day business and the restrictions on what they can achieve within the current legal framework.

“But handling difficult and challenging disputes is a feature of what we do as judges.”

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