The passing of new legislation, ensuring that compensation will be paid to the survivors of institutional abuse, has been hailed as “long overdue” by a Derry man who suffered terrible abuse at a boys’ home in the city.
The new Bill supports victims who suffered historical physical, sexual and emotional abuse in state and church-run homes in Northern Ireland.
Many survivors have been waiting for the payments since they were recommended following a major inquiry into the abuses in 2017.
But the payments were never made due to the collapse of the devolved Northern Irish government at Stormont in January 2017.
Campaigners from survival groups attended the House of Commons this week to watch the Bill pass in the last parliamentary session before the UK General Election in December.
Eugene Gallagher, who spent 13 years in the St. Joseph’s Home at Termonbacca, described the campaign as a “long fight” and believes it is now time “to move on.”
He says there is also a lot of sadness that many people didn’t live to see this week’s events.
He also believes it’s time for the Catholic Church in Derry to apologise for what happened to many young people who grew up in institutions in the city.
Mr Gallagher (61), who is now living in England, says he was regularly beaten by nuns and sexually abused by older boys while he was at Termonbacca between 1962 and 1975. He says he was also frequently molested by a priest who visited the home.
Mr Gallagher singled out Jon McCourt, chairman of Survivors NW, for his role in spearheading the campaign.
“Jon McCourt is a fighter and he always knew something had to be done for the victims of abuse,” he said. “He has conducted himself so well through the years. I think Jon McCourt should be recognised for what he has done. Derry is very lucky to have people like Jon.”
Mr McCourt, meanwhile, says this week’s events were “a long time coming for lots of victims and survivors”.
“There’s certainly a power in what happened,” he said. “The speech by (Northern Ireland Secretary of State) Julian Smith was really, really powerful, but, as everyone has said, this is a day for victims and survivors.
“Hopefully, this will be some closure for some people, we hope so, and what we really want to see is a speedy roll-out of the redress process.”
Mr McCourt believes a fitting tribute to the victims would be a “living memorial” such as an educational bursary for children who may find themselves in similar abusive situations.
“Part of the recommendations were an apology and some sort of memorial tribute. For me, I would prefer to see a living memorial rather than a statue. I don’t think that people need to be reminded of that past.
“To celebrate on this is the wrong thing, I think it’s taken too long to get here. Any good that was in it was lost on the journey but I’m glad we’re at this point now.”
The Bill was put forward after the Court of Appeal in NI ruled that the Executive Office has the power to act in the absence of ministers and introduce the compensation scheme.