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Optimism on victims' group funding


Jennifer McNern lost her legs in the IRA's Abercorn restaurant bombing in 1972

Jennifer McNern lost her legs in the IRA's Abercorn restaurant bombing in 1972

Jennifer McNern lost her legs in the IRA's Abercorn restaurant bombing in 1972

A Stormont minister has expressed confidence that a bid for an extra £1.3 million of funding for a service for Troubles victims and survivors will be approved during the next round of budget negotiations.

Junior Minister Jennifer McCann told MLAs that the Office the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) placed the needs of those affected by the conflict as a high priority.

Ms McCann was questioned in the Assembly by Alliance's Kieran McCarthy about the impact being felt by the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) as a consequence of Stormont's multimillion-pound budget crisis.

Last week it emerged that the service had written to around 3,000 victims and survivors informing them that financial support was being reduced or deferred due to the financial situation.

While the Executive is struggling to absorb £220 million of spending cuts in the next six months, the Sinn Fein junior minister said she hoped an extra £1.3 million could be secured for the VSS in the forthcoming quarterly monitoring round negotiations.

"We fully acknowledge that the needs of victims and survivors have to be given high priority, and we will continue to work to ensure that they are," said Ms McCann.

"We are committed to ensuring that the victims and survivors' budget is protected, and, to that end, we have a bid for £1.3 million in additional funding in October monitoring.

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"We have raised the issue directly with the Minister of Finance (Simon Hamilton) and are confident that the budget will be protected at the same baseline - £11.3 million - as in the previous financial year."

But she warned that efficiencies would still be needed within the sector.

"We are also aware that there has been an increase in the number of victims and survivors coming forward to the service," she said.

"To protect front line services, and in line with the levels of efficiency savings being sought from our department and its arm's-length bodies, the Victims and Survivors Service is seeking a 4.4% reduction in administration and in funding to groups.

"The Victims and Survivors Service has been working with groups to help them find the efficiencies needed, and the service itself has been able to make efficiencies in its running costs to mitigate the impact on its front line services.

"We remain optimistic that a bid for additional funding for the Victims and Survivors Service will be successful in October monitoring. Funding for victims' services has increased over recent years, with £50 million being allocated for victims during this budgetary round."

Last week The Detail investigative website outlined the consequences of cuts on the VSS.

Victims told The Detail how they must now choose which vital services they can afford and which they cannot.

Jennifer McNern lost her legs in the IRA's Abercorn restaurant bombing in 1972.

She said: "For victims and survivors, especially those living with serious injuries, it is dealing with life as it is now.

"We don't have time to sit around for years waiting to deal with the past. The past is our present."

Oliver Wilkinson, interim chair of the Board of the Victims and Survivors Service, said: "The financial pressures currently facing the Northern Ireland Executive have had an impact on our budget at VSS, the detail of which was communicated to us by the Department for OFMDFM at the end of July.

"As a result of budget reductions, the VSS has had to implement certain changes to the criteria for accessing the Individual Needs Programme Schemes, and has deferred some schemes altogether.

"These difficult decisions regarding amendments to the schemes have been approved by the VSS Board in close consultation with the Commission for Victims and Survivors. These decisions have been taken with the intention of ensuring that:

a) VSS operates within the budget allocated to it, accountable for the public funding that it administers; b) the limited resources available are targeted at the most acute needs; and c) these resources would be made available as quickly as possible to those in need.

"Over the past eight weeks, VSS has communicated directly with all of its clients to inform them of the support that is available. In doing so, we have been mindful that the news of reduced support is very difficult for some to hear, and has caused distress for some individuals.

"It is important to understand that this is the first part of a phased approach to delivering the Individual Needs Programme. The VSS, together with OFMDFM, has bid for additional budget in the October Monitoring Round for 2014/2015.

"If additional funding becomes available, we will make the schemes available on a more extensive basis. This will be done once again in close consultation with the Commission for Victims and Survivors."

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