Belfast Telegraph

Progress at last a boost for victims

By Brian Rowan

On his Twitter account last week, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness offered best wishes to Judith Thompson in her important role as "a champion for victims". The tweet came with a picture of the new commissioner, with Mr McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson.

It took more than a year to replace Kathryn Stone in that post; a year in which others were left waiting.

Two women had been deemed appointable after interviews in late 2014. But the post was re-advertised with an increased salary of £75,000. Back then, Mr Robinson said it was "essential that we get this right".

The Victims Commissioner fits into a much wider frame. The past is not just about one appointment.

Thompson will work alongside a Victims' Forum, from which there have been resignations in recent months.

And there is still a wait to see what the fallout will be from the latest political battles at Stormont.

Will the agreements of last December survive beyond September/October, when the crunch really arrives on what to do about welfare reform and cuts?

It is within the wider Stormont House Agreement that you find the detailed proposals for addressing the past. These include new mechanisms for investigations, information-recovery and reconciliation.

But if Stormont falls, then this process will fall with it. There is a need to "depoliticise" the past; to get the independent and international people in place and then to see how their work alongside the commissioner and forum can take things forward.

These processes cannot be controlled forever by politicians. They need to let go.

So, the past is not just about a new Victims Commissioner. It is about many other things.

The real answering, in terms of what happened, will not be achieved through an investigative process, whatever it is called.

The most important pillar in what is proposed is the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. This is the next big appointment. Who will lead that process? And will it be someone who can demand and ensure the co-operation that is needed will be delivered by the many sides?

  • Brian Rowan is a writer and commentator on security issues

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