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Victims deserve better treatment

Those who have suffered the loss of loved ones during the violence of the last 40 years and beyond can only feel a sense of great hurt about the latest difficulties over appointing a Northern Ireland victims commissioner.

What should have been a relatively straightforward matter has been repeatedly mishandled by both the Northern Ireland Office and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister over a full decade.

The post was first established in 2005 as part of a wider official initiative for coordinating the delivery of services for victims and survivors of the Troubles.

Unfortunately, the process surrounding the NIO selection as interim commissioner of Bertha McDougall, who was a respected figure and the widow of a murdered RUC officer, immediately ran into controversy.

After a lengthy court battle, a High Court judge ruled 2007 that she could remain in her short-term job but her nomination had been "improper and politically motivated".

The judge reserved particular criticism for decisions taken by the then secretary of state, Peter Hain, and the civil servants who advised him.

The following year, the OFMDFM announced that a new body, effectively including commissioners broadly associated with each of the four largest parties at Stormont, was to be introduced.

This format also proved impractical, with disputes between the individual commissioners causing further upheaval and confusion.

Mike Nesbitt resigned in 2010 to become firstly an election candidate and later party leader with the Ulster Unionists, leaving his three former colleagues in a structure which lacked credibility.

Eventually, they all stood down and a new single commissioner, Kathryn Stone, who was previously chief executive with an English-based charity, was named in 2012.

Ms Stone made a favourable impression, but, since she decided to move on a year ago, the OFMDFM has been unable to come up with a successor.

The vacancy has been advertised and readvertised, and developments are said to be expected, but the bottom line is that yet again we have a commision without proper leadership and surrounded by uncertainty.

Some members of the related Victims Forum, which also has a contribution to make, have subsequently departed but cannot be replaced in the absence of a functioning commissioner.

We have been left with yet another deeply frustrating state of affairs which is the direct responsibility of the OFMDFM and needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency.

Our victims and survivors on all sides of the community are entitled to expect that significant progress will follow without further delay.

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