Belfast Telegraph

Failure to act will cause further harm to Troubles victims

By Judith Thompson

Today I met Mary Hull. Forty-five years ago Mary became a widow with two young children when her husband, James, was killed in a sectarian attack. Mary says she is not and has never been bitter, though her life was hard for a long time. She feels strongly, though, about the continued failure of our political system to deliver agreement, to properly address the past and make sure that we build a more reconciled future.

While it is deeply regrettable that Northern Ireland remains in a prolonged state of political uncertainty it would be a huge disservice to those I represent not to express the anger that would result from any continued delay in the launch of the legacy consultation and in implementing the legacy mechanisms outlined in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. Since October 2017, the Victims and Survivors Forum and I have met with leaders from the five main political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish governments.

During these engagements forum members have demonstrated patience and understanding and have allowed the talks process to run its course in the belief that the best environment in which to proceed is with a functioning Executive.

Northern Ireland now finds itself at a political impasse on victims and survivors issues that only the Secretary of State can now address. There are three main areas directly affected; the legacy bodies, a pension for the severely injured and the regional trauma network. With regards to legacy bodies, these have draft Westminster legislation in place meaning this element of the Stormont House Agreement can be progressed instantaneously.

We would therefore urge the Secretary of State to demonstrate her commitment to their implementation by starting the consultation and making implementation time-bound, whilst omitting the proposed statute of limitations.

No draft legislation currently exists for a pension and as it stands, this is a devolved matter. The Commission submitted its pension advice to ministers in 2014 and we have seen little progress since then. In the meantime we are seeing an ageing number of seriously injured people who face a very uncertain future and undetermined timeframes are not a luxury they can afford, nor should we as a society expect them to.

Furthermore, I would like to echo the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan's statement when he called for a process to deal with legacy inquests that it is "very difficult to see how ordinary people can be expected to wait much longer." We at the Commission are of the same opinion and would impress upon the British government the need to release this funding.

Despite the politicisation that some of these issues will undergo, the fact remains that failure to act is to further harm and distress victims and survivors. I have requested a follow-up conversation with the Secretary of State and once again will engage with the main political parties. We owe it to thousands of people like Mary to find a better way to deal with the past.

Judith Thompson is the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors

Belfast Telegraph

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