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Thompson hopeful on new deal to help victims of Troubles

By Noel McAdam

Published 26/12/2015

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson
Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson has vowed to help end the political logjam over dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

She intends to push the Assembly parties towards renewed talks with the aim of achieving legislation early in the next Assembly term.

Following a round of talks with the Stormont parties, she said there was "shock and despair" that victims and survivors were left out of last month's 'Fresh Start' Stormont deal.

And she warned thousands of people suffering from Troubles-linked mental illness are being left in limbo because investment in a trauma centre has been put on hold.

As she concluded initial meetings with the main parties just before Christmas, she also revealed the proposal for a pension for the most severely injured victims has become "mired in party politics."

The failure so far to resolve the legacy issues is "holding up our ability to build a better future", Mrs Thompson, who replaced former Commissioner Kathryn Stone after an 18-month gap, warned.

Last year's Stormont House Agreement committed to implement a comprehensive mental trauma service operating within the health service but working closely with the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS).

Then a report earlier this year on the trans-generational impact of the Troubles found that more than 213,000 people in Northern Ireland are experiencing significant mental health problems as a result of the conflict.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton last month said he has now tasked officials with creating an innovative service to "improve the psychological and social outcomes for individuals, their families and communities."

However, the 'Fresh Start' deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein as well as the British and Irish Governments failed to build on the progress under the SHA hammered out just a few days before Christmas last year.

And now Mrs Thompson has hit out. She said: "The status quo is simply unacceptable to victims and survivors. The investment in the trauma centre has been put on hold meaning thousands of people every year suffering from Troubles-related mental illness are not supported.

"The pension for those most severely injured in the conflict has also been mired in party politics while the people affected get older and more in need of what little is on offer."

But she added that following the sense of shock and despair in the immediate aftermath of the 'Fresh Start' document, there is now a "cautious but real" renewed optimism.

"We have been meeting with all of the political parties to nail down the areas of firm progress, identify the substantive areas of concern and work hard on creative ways to find that level of compromise that will move us forward," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"No one can say that these issues do not affect everyday life and politics in Northern Ireland. They are holding up our ability to build a better future and no group of people are more focused on getting a resolution than those who have sacrificed the most."

Mrs Thompson went on: "Leadership of this issue has been given to the victims and survivors sector and we are determined to get our political leaders to a point where they can pass legislation early in the new Stormont administration.

"This is the 'fresh start' we have all been waiting for."

Belfast Telegraph

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