Belfast Telegraph

Six months later, the victims' chief search has failed

By Noel McAdam

Efforts to find a new Victims Commissioner for Northern Ireland have failed - more than six months after the previous post-holder quit.

And now First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are considering the appointment of an interim commissioner.

That move, however, risks repeating the scenario when the first commissioner Bertha McDougall was appointed in October 2005 by Secretary of State Peter Hain - which was later ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Robinson told the Assembly yesterday that an interim appointment would be regarded as a "second best" option.

Speaking at Assembly question time, he revealed the recruitment process for a new Victims Commissioner had produced "a disappointingly small pool of appointable candidates".

Now he and Mr McGuinness may have to increase the amount paid for the position as well as relocation costs to see if it produces a larger range of applicants.

Mr Robinson argued victims had been given a very high priority since devolution, with the amount of funding increased four-fold.

Ex-commissioner Kathryn Stone stood down from the post early last summer, just over 18 months after her appointment.

She had been highly critical of the standard of services offered to those bereaved or injured in the conflict, at one stage branding the First and Deputy First Ministers' victims service as "not fit for purpose".

But Mrs Stone, who resigned for a new job in England, also insisted her frustration over the slowness of progress of victims' issues was not a factor in her decision.

"It has, unquestionably, been the most difficult decision of my professional life and possibly the most emotionally taxing," she said.

Questioned yesterday by the SDLP's Joe Byrne and Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard, as well as his DUP colleague David McIlveen, Mr Robinson added: "We want to ensure that we have the right person for the job. The commission is continuing to deliver its work plan this year."

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Former Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone, who was in the post for 18 months, replaced a previous body that was led by four commissioners.

They were Mike Nesbitt, who is now Ulster Unionist Party leader; RUC widow Bertha McDougall; Patricia MacBride and Brendan McAllister. They served until 2012.

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