Compensating victims of historic abuse in Northern Ireland remains a “big priority” for the Government, the Secretary of State has insisted.

Julian Smith made the pledge after moves to set up a redress board to administer the long-delayed payments were outlined in the Queen’s speech.

Despite the legislative commitment, uncertainty still hangs over the fate of the compensation scheme, given the precarious position of Boris Johnson’s government and the likelihood of an imminent general election.

Redress recommended by a Stormont-commissioned inquiry into historic institutional abuse, chaired by the late Sir Anthony Hart, have been on ice for over two-and-a-half years due to the collapse of the devolved institutions.

Sir Anthony Hart
Sir Anthony Hart speaking at a public meeting of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (PAul Faith/PA)

The Government has been under intense pressure to sanction the outstanding payments at Westminster.

Dozens of victims have died without receiving compensation that was recommended by the wide-ranging inquiry which reported just before devolution imploded in January 2017.

A redress scheme, in which victims would have been paid between £7,500 and £100,000, was one of the recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry (HIA).

Mr Smith acknowledged that it was a source of frustration that the bill still had to proceed through its parliament journey before compensation could be paid out.

“The big priority for me now is to accelerate this through and get money to particularly those older and ill victims that have been waiting so long,” he told the BBC.

Marty Adams, for campaign group Survivors Together, welcomed the move.

“We are absolutely delighted that the Secretary of State has lived up to his word and we firmly believe this will be the last Secretary of State victims will have to deal with regarding justice for victims,” he said.

Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon said there was a need for clarity on what would happen if there was a general election.

“I welcome the fact that a proposed Bill setting up a redress board to compensate HIA victims is to be brought forward,” she said.

“However, victims need some reassurance about what will happen if an election is called.

“The victims have waited too long for justice or redress for an awful wrongdoing.

“What is needed is clarification on this to ensure victims receive the redress they are long entitled to.”

DUP MP Gavin Robinson welcomed the commitment to establish the redress board.

“Some of the victims suffered abuse 40 or 50 years ago,” he said.

“Some have already passed away whilst waiting for progress to be made whilst all are getting older. It is vital that the issue of compensation is progressed swiftly. They have been forced to wait too long already and no further hurdles should be placed in their path.

“I am glad that the Government has taken action in this area. There continue to be many other areas where the people of Northern Ireland and particularly the most vulnerable in our society are punished because of a failure to restore devolution and take decisions on the issues of importance to all our citizens.”