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Failure to address past having toxic impact warns victims commissioner

There are concerns over the absence of a specific reference to victims in Stormont's draft programme for government
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

THE Stormont Executive appears to lack confidence in dealing with victims' issues, the victims commissioner has said.

Outlining concerns over the absence of a specific reference to victims in the draft programme for government (PfG), Judith Thompson also warned that failure to address the legacy of the past was having a toxic impact.

"[I am] deeply, deeply disappointed," she said.

"It feels as if there is not a confidence in government that this is doable.

"It reads as if there is not a measure in there (PfG) in case we can't do it and I don't think we have an option."

The commissioner was giving evidence to the executive Scrutiny Committee at Stormont alongside two new members of the Victims and Survivors' Forum.

"Failure to address legacy has a toxic impact," she said.

"If you have groups of people within different communities who believe that truth or acknowledgement, or in some cases justice, is being withheld from them as a consequence of investigations which have not happened or whose results have not been shared, that undermines policing, for example, despite the extent to which our police service has changed through reform."

Although there was a broad welcome for the executive's new outcomes-focused approach to policy, Ms Thompson said the blueprint was "too general" with "insufficient" recognition of victims' needs around truth and justice issues, mental health, trauma and transgenerational issues.

She also described the lack of a specific target for victims as a missed opportunity.

"If we are to have safe communities, if we are to care for those in need and if we are going to have high-quality public services then we need to address victims and survivors issues," the commissioner said.

"The absence of a way of showing how those measures impact within the programme for government would be a terribly missed opportunity and it would be far worse than that from victims and survivors' point of view."

Meanwhile, Sarah Malone, whose father, a Catholic RUC man, was murdered in 1987, said victims felt "under-recognised".

"There have been too many people who have experienced a great deal of hurt and loss of their nearest and dearest or their quality of life or both and there is a level of frustration there that legacy issues seem to be airbrushed to an extent," she said.

The comments came hours before new funding worth £30 million was announced for victims and survivors.

Around £18.7 million is to go to the Victims' Support Programme 2017-2020.

A further £17.6 million, raised under the European Union’s PEACE IV programme, will go to cross-border groups between 2017 and 2021.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness welcomed the funding announcement.

The closing date for funding applications is January 4 2017.

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