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Public spending cuts to hit victims groups?

Victims groups across Northern Ireland are very likely to suffer a cash squeeze just as a new funding system finally becomes a reality, it was warned today.

Victims Commission acting chairman Mike Nesbitt sounded alarm bells over the timing of consultations for the new Victims Service designed to co-ordinate funding as “all wrong”.

Mr Nesbitt and his three Commission colleagues — Bertha McDougall, Patricia MacBride and Brendan MacAllister — also argued politicians have failed to ensure £36m earmarked for victims “got onto the ground”.

As the detailed proposals for the service approved by the Stormont power-sharing Executive emerged, Mr Nesbitt said people were being asked to comment on the delivery mechanism for a strategy which had yet to emerge.

But in addition he claimed “by the time the service is up and running, the existing pot of money will have run out”.

“The Executive ring-fenced £36m for victims and survivors over the current three-year spending cycle (the Comprehensive Spending Review),” Mr Nesbitt said.

“That CSR ends in March 2011. It’s unlikely the new service will be fully functional more than a few months before that.

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“You may think it inconceivable that politicians would not continue to allocate funds for victims and survivors, but senior figures in the private and voluntary sectors are warning us to anticipate massive cuts in public spending after the general election next year.

“Will victims and survivors be exempt from an across the board tightening of the belt?

“It seems to us that, with the best will in the world, the politicians made the money available, but failed to ensure the capacity existed to process it and get it out onto the ground. That’s both a shame and a waste.”

Meanwhile, in a letter seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Nesbitt has effectively asked victims groups: “give us a chance to be your champion”.

The letter emerged after the High Court judicial review which upheld the appointment of Mr Nesbitt and his three counterparts by the former First Minister Ian Paisley and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

But Mr Nesbitt said the commission acknowledged the review “was a sign that there are victims and survivors who do not feel that we are there for them, despite the promise we made on the day our appointments were announced, when we said we would work for all victims of our conflict”.

“We hope those who supported the judicial review will now give us the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy advocates and champions of their cause,” the former UTV news anchorman added.

The commission is also planning to publish its Corporate Plan, outlining its plans for the next three years and which include proposals — already rejected by the Protestant victims group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) — for a Forum for Victims and Survivors.

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