Victims' Commissioner appointment delayed

left last year: Former victims commissioner Kathryn Stone

A NEW Victims' Commissioner has still not been appointed - a year after the previous commissioner stood down.

Kathryn Stone left her post in June last year after less than two years in the role.

Shortly before her departure, Ms Stone called for immediate action from Stormont to address the needs of victims and survivors.

It is understood there have been two appointment processes, but no candidate has yet been agreed.

Previous commissioner appointments have been beset by legal challenges.

Bertha McDougall, the widow of a murdered RUC reservist, was appointed as interim commissioner in 2005 by then Secretary of State Peter Hain.

Her appointment was later challenged successfully in the courts, leading to the appointment of four commissioners at the beginning of 2008.

These appointments were also challenged, although the case proved unsuccessful.

In 2010, former broadcaster Mike Nesbitt stood down to pursue a political career. The three remaining commissioners served until 2012 when Ms Stone was appointed as the sole victims' commissioner.

Mark Thompson from victims' group Relatives for Justice said it was important "not to appoint for the sake of filling the post but rather attracting the right candidate from as as wide a pool as possible including the international community".

He said a more pressing problem was the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which addressed some concerns surrounding victims and survivors.

The landmark deal agreed the implementation of a mental trauma service and said the executive must ensure that victims have access to services.

"The initial Commissioners did not act as champions for victims when they removed the siblings of people killed from financial, education, training and other grant-support schemes which they had been availing of for almost a decade," Mr Thompson said.

He added: "For many families the Commission does not make meaningful impact on their lives and for them the key focus is on implementing the Stormont House Agreement."

Kenny Donaldson from Innocent Victims United said any new commissioner must address the legal definition of a victim or survivor.

He said people during the Troubles who "engaged in acts of criminality against their neighbour" should not be "re-calibrated as 'victims' ".

He also said the British and Irish governments and former paramilitaries must acknowledge that the use of violence "in the furtherance of or defence of a 'so-called political objective' was never and can never be justified".

"If that fundamental were agreed then dealing with the past would become relatively uncontested and the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors could fulfil the job that they really need to do," he said.


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