Belfast Telegraph

Target vow over calls for help

Troubles victims' calls for help in Northern Ireland are to be returned within a day, a minister said.

A service designed to pay for counselling and other special needs is to be independently reviewed following serious criticism from some sufferers in Northern Ireland.

A woman had to get three quotes for her own wheelchair and many bereaved by the conflict decided not to apply for financial help after those who did were left stressed and frustrated, the region's largest victims group has claimed.

Alex Bunting, who was badly injured by an IRA booby-trap car bomb in Belfast in 1991, has been appointed to the board of the Service, ministers told their scrutiny committee at Stormont, as part of a wider overhaul.

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) junior minister Jonathan Bell said: "We have now got a target to return every call within 24 hours of a working period."

He added officials had introduced new procedures for obtaining quotes for equipment and work to deal with new cases has been deferred pending the outcome of the review but admitted high-level change was required.

The Democratic Unionist Strangford MLA said: "Amending assessments likely is required and, taking that as a starting point, there is a high likelihood that will be changed."

Calls were not returned, claims to cover the cost of befriending or counselling were delayed and onerous paperwork requirements left some who lost loved ones feeling it was not worth using the Victims and Survivors' Service (VSS), a report from the Wave Trauma Centre has said.

Mr Bell added: "Meeting the needs of victims and survivors remains a key priority for us.

"We will continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that victims and survivors get the help they need, the support they expect and no less than they deserve."

Three times as much money is available to victims now than before devolution of power to Stormont in 2007, worth £12 million a year.

The Service was established by the OFMDFM in April last year to channel £20 million Executive funding to those who need it most. It provides money for therapies and counselling for those injured during the 30-year conflict.

Victims' commissioner Kathryn Stone was asked by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to commission the independent assessment after concerns were raised. The intention is to report back by next month.


From Belfast Telegraph