Belfast Telegraph

Officials slammed for failings in new service for victims

By NOEL MCADAM

Senior civil servants have come under severe attack over claims the new service for victims of the Troubles set up by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness is not fit for purpose.

The criticism was levelled as an Assembly committee heard disabled people – including some who have lost limbs – had to be measured up for wheelchairs three times.

Victims of the Troubles were also asked to print out copies of death certificates to confirm the loss of loved ones, even though details were already on file.

Now several of Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness' officials, including Dr Denis McMahon and Ricky Irwin, have been summoned back to the Assembly committee which monitors their office in the next few weeks.

And round-table talks between the new service, Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone – who has claimed victims are being "re-traumatised" – and OFMDFM officials are also on the cards. Former Executive Minister Alex Attwood asked if it was necessary "that victims are asked to re-present and reproduce death certificates in order to confirm that a death occurred".

"Why are people being means-tested again when they have already been means-tested? Why are people who may have lost a limb and are looking for a wheelchair being told to get three tenders? Are these not basic issues of dignity?"

And the DUP's Jimmy Spratt added: "Individuals who are coming forward feel that the service really does not want to help them; rather, it just wants them to go away. In my book, that is scandalous, to say the least."

Dr McMahon responded: "I could not possibly defend people not being phoned back or contacted. We are going to look at each of the points as a matter of urgency."

Mr Irwin added: "The service is an operational organisation that is working in a very complex and highly sensitive area."

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said a number of victims' groups experience of the service has been "for the most part, if not entirely, negative... there is an ethos issue and maybe a cultural problem".

First Minister Mr Robinson told MLAs last month: "We want to hear about the areas in which the commissioner feels that the service has fallen short.

"We are in no way complacent. Constructive criticism is something that none of us should run away from.

"Let us see what the issues are, and let us see how we might resolve them."

FACTFILE

The key principles of the victims and survivors service include:

Better co-ordination of funding

More efficient use of resources

To collate information on individual needs

Better evaluation of services

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