McDougall calls for £8m fund and forum for victims
Suggestions could deal with the 'truth recovery' process
A new fund for victims and survivors of the Troubles should be established by the end of 2007 - and given £8m in start-up cash in its first year, a major report says.
After a year of investigation and consultation, "overwhelming support" has also emerged for the formation of a victims and survivors forum - even if some will not take part.
Those are among the conclusions of the interim commissioner for victims and survivors who believes a flexible forum could deal with the truth recovery process in Northern Ireland.
Bertha McDougall said there are many victims who feel they got a "raw deal" and have been forgotten, "beating their heads off a brick wall, and treated with disdain and like second class citizens."
She has proposed scrapping the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund which has had seventeen different schemes that failed to reflect the changing needs of victims and survivors.
"Many victims and survivors have indicated a difficulty and a reluctance to access a fund that they perceive is lacking in sensitivity towards them," her report said.
Mrs McDougall also said a review of the existing core funding scheme for victims groups, which does not enable sustainability or long term planning, is essential.
"There are many audit checks in the system but no audit of the quality of the projects, their outcomes or evaluation," her investigation found.
Mrs McDougall found on taking up her office in December 2005 that it was unclear whether the conclusions of numerous other, earlier reports had been accepted, acted upon or ignored.
But she also found a high level of mistrust between various groups and a " very high level" of mistrust of statutory services as well as government. "While some victim support groups have undertaken work to build trust within and between communities the level of mistrust should not be underestimated."
For the most part government was "reactive rather than proactive" on the needs of victims and survivors while they established their own formal and informal networks of support.
Victims in rural areas felt a sense of isolation with less access to services than urban counterparts, and there were gaps in services for young people.
Access to counselling has not been equitable with services based in locations like Belfast, while for vulnerable people suffering emotional difficulties, "travelling only serves to exacerbate their condition" .
The reports key points
- Fresh fund given £8m in first year for individual victims.
- Hardship worst among victims from early Troubles.
- Improved training for GPs in diagnosis of post-traumatic stress.
- Memorial fund should be phased out.
- New commissioner to spearhead plans and priorities for Victims and Survivors Forum.
- Annual payment of £2,000 to spouses bereaved prior to 1998.
- Further thought on setting up UDR Fund similar to the NI Police Fund.
- Victims given places on Community Planning Partnerships being set up under the Review of Public Administration.
- Counselling services for victims and survivors accredited to recognised standards.
- Regional and local trauma provision taken forward in tandem with the Bamford review on mental health services.