Northern Ireland

Victims commissioners' concerns at service delay

Bertha McDougall
Image caption Bertha McDougall told the committee she lacked confidence in the formation of the new service

Two victims' commissioners have told a Stormont committee they have a lack of confidence about preparations for a new Victims and Survivors Service.

The proposed service is part of the NI Executive's 10-year victims strategy.

Its objectives include improving direct support to individuals and co-ordinate funding for groups.

Commissioner Bertha McDougall told the OFMDFM committee that despite assurances the service would begin in September, she remained anxious.

She said she had attended a meeting with junior ministers Gerry Kelly and Robin Newton on Tuesday and been told about the autumn start date.

However, she told the committee the situation was still unsatisfactory.

"We realise that it will take time to build up a service but victims need to see something happening fairly soon," she said.

"There is growing scepticism about these delays and people are losing confidence in the committment to create a service."

She added that the commissioners expect to review progress with the First and Deputy First Ministers in March.

Her fellow commissioner, Brendan McAllister, said there was "great frustration" and disillusionment because things had taken so long to get going.

Timeline

SDLP equality spokesperson Dolores Kelly criticised the delay.

Speaking on Thursday, the Upper Bann MLA said: "I think the thing people need to remember is this service was to be up and running by 2008 - May 2008 was the first timeline.

"Now there's no fixed timeline for it to be up and running at all."

She added: "It appears to me the only thing the victims' commissioners have been allowed to do is to complete a number of surveys and pieces of research.

"But what we need to see, and more importantly what victims need to see, is action on the ground."

In a statement, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister said it was committed to delivering "the highest level of support and services to vicitms".

"We are planning for the service to begin operating with individual assessments from September.

"We are still awaiting the completion of the Comprehensive Needs Assessment by the Commissioners.

"This is vital to identifying and developing the support necessary for victims and to the work of the service."

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