The siblings of Troubles victims being barred from trauma-easing services
Sisters and brothers of people killed during the Troubles are being excluded from Government-financed services for victims, it has been revealed.
Siblings have been declared ineligible for individual support schemes, which can include access to training and education, care costs and disability support.
It has meant hundreds left with the trauma of losing close relatives during the conflict have not been allowed to take up the schemes run by the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS).
An MLA who has launched a campaign over their exclusion slammed the shut-out of siblings as "appalling".
Chris Hazzard, spokesperson on victims for Sinn Fein, said he believed the public would be shocked when they learned siblings of those who have been killed were being excluded.
But the Belfast Telegraph can reveal there is a glimmer of hope, because the present scheme is being re-examined, with Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson backing the review.
However, it could be a long time before any changes are agreed and implemented.
South Down MLA Mr Hazzard said: "I am appalled that hundreds of vulnerable people would be actively excluded from life-changing support. We need to meet the needs of all those in society who require help, and this certainly includes those people who lost brothers and sisters as a result of the conflict.
"Most people will be shocked to learn that siblings of those killed as a result of the conflict are not considered eligible for a wide range of bereavement services. This awful policy has to be overturned."
Three years ago the then Commission for Victims and Survivors carried out a comprehensive needs assessment, after which it was decided that siblings were not eligible for direct support through the individual needs programme.
However, Mrs Thompson told this newspaper: "This is one of the main issues which has come up in my visits with groups and individuals over the last few weeks.
"I am aware that the commission, the service and the department are currently examining these issues for the schemes for next year, and I look forward to hearing the outcome of those discussions."
Oliver Wilkinson, chair of the VSS board, confirmed: "The eligibility criteria that the VSS uses to determine access to certain services and support is being reviewed."
He added that the purpose of the review was to come up with improved services and support for victims and survivors.
Any recommendations which do emerge would come from Mrs Thompson in the form of policy advice for First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinnness.
Mr Hazzard said: "I think a shift in this is now being indicated. It is something which certainly needs to be reviewed. It is just not right. It is important no one is left behind."
Siblings are allowed access to some other schemes, which include social support and health and wellbeing activities.
Case study: ‘No thought for brothers and sisters who grew up grieving’
Ann Travers, whose murdered loved one was a sibling, is arguably the most high-profile victims’ campaigner.
Mary Travers was shot dead in 1984 by a Provisional IRA gang that was attempting to murder her father Thomas, a Resident Magistrate.
The family had just left St Brigid’s Catholic Church in Derryvolgie Avenue in south Belfast when two gunmen opened fire. Mary was shot once through the back, and her father was shot six times.
Ann said she was shocked when she learned that siblings were being excluded from support schemes.
“Apparently, it was decided by the former four-strong commission and even agreed by the pilot Victims Forum,” she said. “But I am hopeful that it will be changed.
“When I first heard about this a couple of years ago I was horrified. Siblings’ needs, especially those who were still living at home together when violence came to their door, are just as valuable and equal to those of a son or daughter, mother and father or husband and wife.
“No thought has been given to siblings who were children and continued to grow up in a grieving home. It’s a nonsense that siblings aren’t entitled to individual schemes by the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS).
“I have raised this matter with the Victims Forum and the Commission for Victims and Survivors, and I know that they are working with the VSS on this matter. I am also aware that siblings are entitled to access other schemes run by VSS. However, they should be entitled to access them all.