Failure to address legacy of past has toxic impact, says Victims Commissioner
The Stormont Executive appears to lack confidence in dealing with victims' issues, the Victims Commissioner has said.
Outlining concerns over the absence of a specific reference to victims in the draft programme for government (PfG), Judith Thompson also warned that failure to address the legacy of the past was having a toxic impact.
She said: "(I am) deeply, deeply disappointed. It feels as if there is not a confidence in government that this is doable.
"It reads as if there is not a measure in there (PfG) in case we can't do it and I don't think we have an option."
The commissioner was giving evidence to the Executive Scrutiny Committee at Stormont alongside two new members of the Victims and Survivors' Forum.
She said: "Failure to address legacy has a toxic impact.
"If you have groups of people within different communities who believe that truth or acknowledgement, or in some cases justice, is being withheld from them as a consequence of investigations which have not happened or whose results have not been shared, that undermines policing, for example, despite the extent to which our police service has changed through reform."
Although there was a broad welcome for the Executive's new outcomes-focused approach to policy, Ms Thompson said the blueprint was "too general" with "insufficient" recognition of victims' needs around truth and justice issues, mental health, trauma and trans-generational issues.
She also described the lack of a specific target for victims as a missed opportunity.
"If we are to have safe communities, if we are to care for those in need and if we are going to have high-quality public services then we need to address victims and survivors issues ," the commissioner added.
"The absence of a way of showing how those measures impact within the programme for government would be a terribly missed opportunity and it would be far worse than that from victims and survivors' point of view."
Meanwhile, Sarah Malone, whose father, a Catholic RUC man, was murdered in 1987, said victims felt "under-recognised".
She said: "It has already been too long. There have been too many people who have experienced a great deal of hurt and loss of their nearest and dearest or their quality of life or both and there is a level of frustration there that legacy issues seem to be airbrushed to an extent.
"In terms of the outcome-based approach, one of the key aspects of that is care which we felt includes care for victims and survivors because we are a section of society as well and feel that we are perhaps under-recognised at the moment."
West Belfast man Paul Crawford, who lost his father, aunt and cousin and survived an attack on his own life, said it was important that structures proposed under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement to tackle mental health and well-being were put in place.