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Don't cut mental health services for Troubles victims again, watchdog pleads

By Noel McAdam

Published 30/10/2015

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson
Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson

Northern Ireland has around 200,000 adults suffering from mental health problems arising from the Troubles, the Victims Commissioner has warned.

After a few weeks in the post, Judith Thompson said there were also still some 40,000 suffering from injuries and an estimated 3,720 bereaved families.

Her figures are based on research by the commission that shows almost one in three people here considers themselves to be victims and survivors.

Yet some people are only now revealing their needs, and the Commissioner estimates the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) will face a 10% increase in people coming forward every year.

"Perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. Many, on a daily basis, relive the trauma of losing someone they loved or deal with the physical pain of an injury they would never otherwise have had to endure," Mrs Thompson said.

She warned against further spending cuts hitting services, with the commission's budget already slashed by almost half.

When it started in 2008 it had an annual budget of £1.5m, but Stormont spending reductions have reduced that to £880,000.

Mrs Thompson told the Stormont committee that examines victims issues she had some concerns over it fulfilling its statutory duties.

"I believe that we have managed our situation through a very wise decision to move offices. There have been considerable savings there. But, yes, it is a concern for me," she said.

The Commissioner, who replaced Kathryn Stone who resigned in April, insisted: "I make absolutely no apology for saying that the funding that is required to support the services that have been so important in helping victims and survivors cope with pain, trauma and everyday practical needs must be guaranteed and ring-fenced."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, she added: "Those who have suffered the most in our society should not be left wondering whether the support they depend on will be there next year."

And she had a message for people who believe it is time to "move on" and draw a line on the past.

"I believe that this is equally important for members of the general public who may feel that we should move on and forget about the past - and many do feel this despite often having experienced injury loss or trauma themselves," he said.

"However, it is in dealing practically, humanely and sensitively with all of those who have suffered that we ensure that their children and grandchildren do not go forward in life feeling bitter and robbed of a better future."

Urging the parties to push ahead with the Stormont House Agreement, Mrs Thompson told the OFMDFM committee: "It is clear to me that dealing with the past and further discussion around the proposed measures contained in the Stormont House Agreement will be a top priority for both the Victims Forum and the Commission over the coming months."

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