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Victims Service: A dilemma that raises questions about who gets support, and who doesn't

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Belfast Telegraph Political Editor Liam Clarke

Belfast Telegraph Political Editor Liam Clarke

Belfast Telegraph Political Editor Liam Clarke

Nothing is more tightly argued in Northern Ireland than the right to be called a victim, but do we really want to be seen as a society of victims?

More importantly, do we want a society where it is necessary to be identified as a Troubles victim to access services and help?

Is it right that someone should be more readily helped because they can trace a psychological trauma to a paramilitary or security forces shooting than, say, a horrific car accident or a robbery?

These are not easy questions to answer, especially in times of financial austerity. All departments are now facing massive cuts and there is a natural tendency to try to concentrate resources on sections of society which are seen to be blameless and which are well organised in terms of political lobbying.

In recent years we have seen how the victims' sector, once an almost forgotten and disregarded group, has grown in influence. Organised lobbying by mainly unionist victims led to the scrapping of the Peace and Reconciliation Centre at the Maze; victims on all sides, but particularly nationalists, have successfully insisted on public inquiries; and there are special funds set aside for dealing with individual trauma.

We are used to the arguments that you cannot put a price on justice. Yet we do put a price on it, even if we don't like admitting it. The police, especially under the present financial constraints, make decisions about what crimes to pursue and what level of protection to give to individuals all the time. Investigating the past put such a strain on policing the present that the Chief Constable decided to cut back on it.

We also put a price on health; some people wait for life- changing operations like hip replacements, while others get higher priority because their condition is immediately life- threatening. Perhaps this is how decisions should generally be taken, without regard to how injuries or traumas occurred.

Is it more socially valuable to care for someone who was disabled in the Troubles than someone who suffered a debilitating stroke? Is it right to ring-fence major funds in this way? Should money be more easily available for people who witnessed a bombing than those who need innovative cancer drugs?

There are no comfortable answers to these questions, but that doesn't mean that decisions about resources don't have to be taken in a way that will maximise benefits to the whole society.

The priority should be to provide adequate care to all who need it, however their needs arise. With that as a starting point, there might be less incentive for people to self- identify as victims in order to access services.

Belfast Telegraph