The Government has declined to commit to passing legislation at Westminster to implement recommendations of a major historical abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said she faced a constitutional “challenge” because there was uncertainty over what approach Stormont ministers would have taken if powersharing was still in place.
The long-running inquiry into historical institutional abuse in the region, which was led by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, published its findings last January, just before the devolved executive imploded.
Among its recommendations was a compensation scheme for victims.
In the coming weeks the head of Northern Ireland’s civil service, David Sterling, who is effectively running public services amid the powersharing crisis, is set to officially ask Mrs Bradley to pass legislation to implement a number of the recommendations at Westminster.
Draft legislation currently being drafted by his officials will be finalised this summer.
Mr Sterling had said if powersharing was not restored by then he would formally ask Mrs Bradley to take the legislation through the Westminster parliament.
Mrs Bradley, who met abuse victims on Monday, said she would have to “wait and see” what Mr Sterling brought forward before making a decision.
“As with all these things, this is the big issue, the constitutional issue about devolution – what is it right for Westminster to do in the absence of an executive at Stormont which would normally be done at Stormont?” Mrs Bradley told the Press Association.
“We have this challenge every time because the point with this inquiry is, it was set up by the executive, it was due to report to the executive, the executive collapsed before it reported, so therefore we don’t know what the ministers’ reaction is or would have been to the recommendations.
“And the point with all these inquiries is, you need the ministers who set the inquiry up to look at the recommendations and determine what is the right thing to do.
“They were elected by people in Northern Ireland and therefore they should act on them.”
Victims have expressed anger and frustration that Mrs Bradley has not committed to legislate.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the Conservative MP said she “felt very strongly” about the victims’ need.
She told PA: “I was involved when I was in the Home Office when the child abuse inquiry (for England and Wales) was set up and run by (professor) Alexis Jay and I met so many survivors in my role in the Home Office and I know how important it is for people to have that opportunity to have their story heard, to be listened to, to be believed and to see justice in many cases.
“But this constitutionally is a matter for Stormont.”
Mrs Bradley said she was “pleased” Mr Sterling was doing preparatory work on draft legislation.
“I have to wait to see what he comes forward with, what his recommendations are, what his views of the recommendations are, before we can make any decision,” she added.