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Boris Johnson told to tackle Troubles legacy plan before his exit as NI trauma expert speaks out

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Boris Johnson. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Boris Johnson. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

PA

Boris Johnson. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The chief executive of a trauma centre in Northern Ireland wants Boris Johnson to address legacy issues before he leaves the office at No 10, saying “you cannot wipe the slate clean with the blood of victims”.

Sandra Peake, the chief executive of Wave, has said referrals from Troubles’ victims in need of mental health support have doubled in the past year, due to the UK government’s legacy bill.

More than 1,200 people — 60pc of whom are men — are in need of help, due to being bereaved or injured, suffering unresolved trauma, and coping with the “period of great uncertainty” in dealing with events from the past.

“That anxiety for victims has been very much to the fore in the past 12 months, and we are not seeing that abating at all,” she told the Sunday Independent.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill envisages offering immunity from prosecution to people who are deemed to have co-operated with the information retrieval body. Criminal prosecutions could still take place for those who do not.

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After Mr Johnson was forced to resign last week there is now “greater anxiety” for those victims, Ms Peake said. 

Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, also resigned. And they are watching new caretaker Secretary of State Shailesh Vara closely.

“People are very disillusioned by the direction of travel the government is taking. They feel overlooked and devalued and believe the government is showing that victims do not matter in relation to what has been proposed,” Ms Peake said.

She would like to meet with Mr Vara to express her “concern about what the legacy plans mean for future generations, given that trauma is being passed to the next generation”. 

Ms Peake said she hopes Mr Vara “takes on board the concerns of victims and survivors”.

“For many people — anyone dealing with the issue of legacy and any families who have engaged in that process — the past two years can be categorised as not being listened to, a lack of engagement and a lack of consultation,” she said.

“As for Boris Johnson leaving, for many people a change is good, but whether there are changes remains to be seen. There is a deep lack of trust.” 

Wave Trauma Centre has been “under tremendous pressure” in the past year, she said, which had made staff feel “very uneasy”.

Their youngest client is just four years old, the child of a victim of the Troubles — another generation feeling the pain of the past — while the oldest client is 96.

“Staff have expressed concern about the number of people who are presenting with problems and need help,” she said. "That becomes stressful in itself. We will continue to help those who need it.”

She said addressing the past is “the last roll of the dice and therefore needs to be done right”.

“Murder is being minimised, and that is detrimental to our future society. Before he goes, Boris Johnson needs to realise that what his government is proposing is grossly unfair.”

SDLP leader and MP Colum Eastwood said those Conservative members vying for leadership of the party “have facilitated Boris Johnson’s behaviour for years”.

“The best thing for Northern Ireland would be a general election and a Labour-led government,” he said.

As well as legacy, the issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol have yet to be sorted.

“It is essential we get a grown-up in Downing Street who is prepared to negotiate properly with the EU so we can resolve the outstanding issues,” he said, adding the “current approach of unilateral actions and childish behaviour will only lead to a trade war that no one should want”.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the “immediate challenge” for the next British prime minister “must be on getting the Assembly, Executive and North-South bodies back up and running without any delay”.

“It’s time for a change of tack. That includes ending threats to break international law and the continuous undermining of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The people of the North spoke clearly in May’s election and it’s a disgrace that one party, with the support of the Tories, are still blocking a functioning government being formed.”


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