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Job nobody wanted has banana skins aplenty

By Brian Rowan

Published 23/07/2015

This is the walking on eggshells job. Some might even describe it as the poisoned chalice.

The post of Victims' Commissioner has been vacant for more than a year - since Kathryn Stone left halfway through her term.

Since then there has been a long wait for a successor.

The job was advertised and then re-advertised with an increased salary. It was about widening the pool of appointable candidates.

And, now, there is a decision. It won't be long before the inevitable questions are asked; the trip-up questions - the ones that come with a banana skin warning.

How do you define a victim?

Who should qualify for a pension for those severely injured during the conflict years?

To wear or not to wear a poppy?

In this place there is no one answer to those questions - well, at least no simple answer.

There is still a battle being fought over the definition of victim - about how far that term stretches and should be stretched.

Back in 2009, the detailed report of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past was shelved over one controversial recommendation to pay a £12,000 recognition payment to all families who lost someone in the Troubles.

Then came the Haass/O'Sullivan negotiations - the next big effort to get a deal on a formal process for addressing the past and, then, the Stormont House talks and agreement.

But there is now disagreement about that agreement, with politics again stuck in that phrase of nothing being agreed until everything is agreed.

The new commissioner will work alongside the Victims Forum, with a group of people from very different backgrounds and experiences.

But the appointment comes with politicians and governments still trying to build that formal structure to address the past.

The Stormont House Agreement does include proposals for a new Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission for Information-Retrieval, and an Implementation and Reconciliation Group. There are plans for an archive to allow people to record their stories and experiences and proposals on victims' services.

But all of that has become stuck at Stormont in the continuing stand-off over welfare reform and wider cuts.

The past will never have an agreed narrative, will always be contested, including those arguments over who should be called a victim and who should not.

And this is the difficult and disputed ground onto which the new commissioner will soon have to step.

Belfast Telegraph

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