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DUP leader tells Victims Forum she wants public discussions on legacy issues

By Cate McCurry

Members of the Victims and Survivors Forum (VSF) met a DUP delegation led by Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday.

The meeting, which was also attended by the Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson, took place as part of a series of contacts with the major parties.

The forum is seeking assurances from the parties that they are committed to addressing the legacy of the past and to ensure that any political barriers preventing that are addressed.

The Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said that a consultation on the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval and an oral history archive will be launched in late autumn, but that his preference was for the Stormont Executive to be in place.

Following yesterday's meeting, a VSF spokesman said that Mrs Foster had told them she had no objections to the consultation process taking place as soon as possible.

The DUP leader also agreed the legislative consultation must be accessible to all of civic society and in particular to victims and survivors who have not felt able to come forward to date.

The spokesman added: "Mrs Foster and her colleagues were clearly across the detail of issues that affect victims and survivors and the impact of the conflict on our society to this day.

"We had a candid discussion about the difficulties on delivering the Stormont House Agreement. However, through working together we believe these difficulties can be overcome.

"The DUP party leader recognised that our membership is diverse, but united in seeking delivery of the mechanisms and we offered our support and encouragement to the DUP and all politicians to get legacy issues finally addressed."

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said: "Victims and survivors will not be the only beneficiaries of delivering mechanisms that will give us access to truth, justice, and acknowledgement or redress the harm caused.

"We need to focus on building a society that we all want to live in and invest in and we can only achieve that by addressing the legacy of the past."

Lesley Veronica, whose father David Bingham, a part-time UDR officer, was shot and killed by the IRA in January 1973 when she was just four-years-old, attended the meeting.

She said: "We have been very keen to engage with all the political parties and we feel ready to make that engagement happen for some time, coming to consensus and tidying up some of the guiding principles that we have inherited from the previous forum.

"We keep hearing how the legacy of the past is a sticking point but for us, while we understand it is difficult and we are not underestimating that, we don't feel it necessarily has to be the sticking point that it has been.

"We are trying to engage with the political parties with the view to working with them - we all want the same thing. We all want an Executive up and running, and we want to see the peace process moving forward."

Paul McCormac, whose father was shot seven times and died days later, also took part.

He said: "We told them that we are keen to have the funding released, we couldn't talk about it a lot as there are legal issues surrounding it.

"If the money was released these things could start - it's a way of getting closure."

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