Put victims and survivors at the centre of a new Stormont deal
For victims and survivors of the Troubles, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement 17 years ago was not the end of their suffering; it was merely the beginning of a very long journey of acknowledgement and healing, a journey which, for many, is nowhere near over.
Almost one in three people in Northern Ireland considers themselves to be victims and survivors of the conflict. This equates to approximately 500,000 people and includes up to 200,000 adults with mental health problems, 40,000 people suffering with injuries and 3,720 families bereaved.
As time passes, many ask if the compromises which they made to support peace will be rewarded by the recognition, justice, truth and reparation that they expect and deserve.
There is no more compelling reason to realise that, if we are to move on as a peaceful and sharing society, we have to deal with a painful past and acknowledge that it still affects the present. That is why our politicians and both governments cannot ignore the importance of implementing the Stormont House Agreement.
They should also take the time to get the legislation right in setting up the Historical Inquiries Unit, the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval and the Oral History Archive.
There is, equally, an urgency to implement the other elements of the Stormont House Agreement, including the Mental Trauma Service, pensions for those severely injured and advocate-counsellor support.
The Implementation and Reconciliation Group has a particularly important role in enabling "statements of acknowledgment" to be made about the past, enabling victims and survivors to get the acknowledgment and closure that they deserve.
Collectively, the new proposals represent the most comprehensive yet to address victims' needs. Above all, they will need to be measured against the "victim-centred" principles that our Victims and Survivors Forum has now established if they are to be successful.
I believe that the commission has a very important role to play in the next five years in all of these matters and, particularly, in engaging in progressive dialogue that requires all of us to engage with perspectives that are completely alien to our own.
- Judith Thompson is Victims' Commissioner