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Parties fear Brexit will let down NI victims

By Noel McAdam

Published 05/08/2016

Warning: Judith Thompson
Warning: Judith Thompson

Brexit could bring a looming funding crisis facing victims' groups to a head much sooner, it has been said.

Stormont's opposition parties the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance parties have swung behind Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson after she sounded alarm bells that the system supporting groups dealing with victims from the Troubles is on the brink of collapse.

As revealed in the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday, the Commissioner has told First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that the present finance scheme cannot cope with an increase in demand from claimants of almost 30% a year in the last three years.

Mrs Thompson also told of frustration among victims' groups about the failure of politicians to reach a deal on so-called legacy issues - left out of the 'Fresh Start' deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein last autumn.

UUP MP Tom Elliott added: "Victims and survivors need certainty that the support net will be there for them when they need it and the Executive must move immediately to allay any concerns.

"There is the added uncertainty of what will happen to the money that had previously come from Europe.

"Victims have faced uncertainty and broken promises before, this cannot be a trend that is allowed the continue."

Stewart Dickson of Alliance said: What we are seeing now is the inevitable fall-out from the lack of dealing with victims' needs in the so-called Fresh Start deal. We need to ensure the current system has adequate funding to meet those requirements and victims are no longer failed.

"There is also a question to answer from the British Government over future funding for victims' service following Brexit and how competing pressures on finances in a post-EU UK are met."

They voiced their concerns after one of the main victims' groups in the province, Wave, signalled last month that money under the EU Peace programme could now be in doubt.

Meanwhile, the SDLP has warned the Government that funding for survivors of the Troubles must be examined - and insisted: "victims cannot be let down again".

Saying the party has already written to London demanding a "revision", Alex Attwood said: "The resources must be made available, both from London in terms of legacy funding and from the Executive Office in terms of the forthcoming 2017-21 budget."

Commissioner Thompson also said: "Given the cuts elsewhere, it is good that the £13m funding for the victims' sector, delivered and administered for the Executive Office by the victims and survivors service (VSS) has been maintained, but given the year-on-year increase of 29% we have seen it is going to be overwhelmed.

"We are at a tipping point," she stressed and said political agreement should be reached to allow legislation to go forward in the Assembly and Westminster.

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