Belfast Telegraph

Concerted outreach needed to engage with those still suffering

By Judith Thompson

It is deeply disappointing that, midway through the consultation on legislation to implement Legacy Institutions in Northern Ireland, we have had little public debate on what is in this consultation for those who have suffered harm.

Instead, we have a public debate that is focused on a proposed amnesty or statute of limitations for those who may have caused harm; something which, overwhelmingly, victims and survivors do not want.

The Commission and the Victims and Survivors Forum are very clear that if this process is to have the confidence of every section of the public, particularly those victims and survivors who have never engaged with the authorities, we need a comprehensive outreach programme.

Individual groups throughout Northern Ireland have been active and supported by the Victims and Survivors Service as well as the Victims Unit at the NIO in questioning the draft legislation.

Yet our research indicates that one in four people in Northern Ireland has been and, in many cases, continues to be affected by the past conflict.

We believe a more concerted effort must be made to reach them.

The Commission for Victims and Survivors is organising outreach sessions throughout Northern Ireland to inform our response to the consultation.

We will host focus groups and events and promote a wider engagement, so that all of us who continue to see our lives and our communities affected by the past have the opportunity to feed into the consultation, either online or by post. The lack of proactivity by Government has been disappointing (despite the efforts of some policy-makers) and the same must be said of most of our political representatives.

The substantive issues of an Historical Investigation Unit, an ICIR, an Oral History Archive and an IRG have not been debated and the vast majority of the population will have no idea whether they will be useful, achieve more or better results or provide the healing environment we all want.

I would hope that in the next six weeks we see the outworking of a more informed and widespread discussion that centres on dealing with the past and addressing the needs of victims and survivors as the final step in our desire to move society forward.

Judith Thompson is the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors

Belfast Telegraph

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