Belfast Telegraph

Victims group to put pressure on parties over Northern Ireland legacy issues

By Noel McAdam

Victims' representatives will discuss the impasse over dealing with the past at Stormont today.

The Victims and Survivors Forum, which includes both security forces members and paramilitary victims, is to meet the five main parties for the first time.

The meeting comes as the issue of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles remains at the core of the negotiations to restore the Assembly.

Forum members are expected to ask how barriers blocking the implementation of mechanisms for dealing with the past can be removed.

They are also hoping for answers around the issue of the proposed pension for the severely injured, along with progress on the planned Northern Ireland-wide Mental Trauma Service.

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said forum members will challenge the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Ulster Unionist and Alliance representatives over the long delay in reaching agreement on 'legacy' issues.

"Forum members have repeatedly expressed their dismay at the failure of our politicians to move forward on setting up mechanisms to deal with legacy issues," she said.

"They will use the meetings to challenge the delays and put forward their vision for a victim-led approach to deal with the past."

Mrs Thompson said: "While this discussion is being led by the Victims and Survivors Forum, reaching resolution on dealing with the past has significant social and economic benefits for everyone. We need to remind our politicians of that."

Forum members include Shirley McMichael, whose husband John was a loyalist paramilitary leader killed by an IRA car bomb in 1987.

Among the others are Emmett McConomy, whose brother Stephen (11) was shot by a solider with a plastic bullet in 1982, and Sam Wilson, who served in the RUC reserve and as a part-time member of the UDR.

Mrs Thompson added: "Forum members are clear that those who have suffered are speaking with a collective voice and that they must expect this voice to be heard on dealing with our past.

"Speaking as a unified group, the forum members will articulate their shared vision, ensuring all future policy decisions are victim-led and victim-centred."

Meanwhile, parties involved in the talks came under renewed pressure as the negotiations intensify from Irish language activist group POBAL.

Director Janet Muller said: "There is great pressure on the parties now to come to some form of agreement and, given the opposition of some to meaningful legislation, there are dangers in this current phase of talks.

"We have been very clear in the 11 years since the British government gave its commitment to introduce the Irish Language Act that weak legislation would just increase frustration. We urge the political parties to stand firm in their support for rights-based legislation which can and will create a wide range of guaranteed rights in education, the political institutions, local authorities, administration of justice and media."

Ms Muller warned that any legislation will have no teeth without adequate resources from Westminster.

"Irish language projects have survived on a shoestring for decades," she added.

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