Start paying off debt to Troubles victims, Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone tells parties
If the political parties believe victims of the Troubles are owed a huge debt, they should start paying now.
That was the message yesterday from Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone as the negotiating teams all insisted victims must be at the core of any deal.
Ironically, the Victims Commission had organised a consultation session with victims' groups just a few hundred yards from the Haass talks venue.
Ms Stone referred to the juxtaposition as a "happy coincidence".
She added: "It is the victims who have sacrificed most, and who have suffered most, and who have an important contribution in terms of what the politicians call a better and shared future."
Representatives of more than 30 organisations, including the Wave Trauma Centre, Relatives for Justice, Omagh Support and Self Help, the RUC George Cross group, Survivors of Trauma and officials from Peter Robinson's and Martin McGuinness' office took part in the event – organised long before Dr Haass switched his talks venue from the Europa Hotel to the Stormont Hotel.
They were gathered not to discuss the potential outcome of the Haass process, but to debate current provision, which has come under fire from Ms Stone who has accused the victims' and survivors' service set up by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of retraumatising victims.
A further event, to discuss ideas on dealing with the legacy of the past, is organised for February.
Ms Stone said she would welcome any backing from the Haass process for the idea of an annuity for victims.
"If politicians are saying the debt owed to victims is huge, pay it. Start paying the debt off.
"Victims need some acknowledgement of what happened to them," she added.
The commissioner also reiterated that, in terms of their approach to dealing with the past – seeking truth at the expense of justice, for example – victims "are not a homogenous group".
She added: "We do have to listen to the lived experience of victims."