RUC Widows Association: Justice Department 'insulted' police

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The RUC Widows' Association has accused the Justice Department of insulting police officers who gave their lives during the Troubles.

The allegations, denied by the department, have been sparked by a row over funding.

Three hundred full and part-time RUC officers were killed in the Troubles.

The association was funded by the Northern Ireland Office following a recommendation from the Patten Commission.

It was also funded until recently by the Department of Justice.

Following a change in how it is classified, the association now has to apply for funds from the Department of Justice rather than receiving them automatically.

But since the change, the association has failed to access £38,000.

The Widows Association said it did not wish to comment but the BBC has seen a written complaint to MLAs.

In the written complaint, the treasurer of the association, Danna Cochrane, said: "Members of the association feel the withdrawal of the funding is an insult to all those members of the RUC George Cross (GC) and the RUC GC Reserve who gave their lives, suffered horrendous injuries and who went on duty to prevent total anarchy in the province.

"The sum of money involved is a meagre £38,000, a drop in the ocean I am sure you will agree."

She said their status was changed from public to private sector and they had "no redress as there is no right of appeal".

The Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, who is a former victims' commissioner, has backed the association.

Mr Nesbitt said: "This should be marked in the file 'unbelievable'.

'Political attack'

"These are the widows of people who put on uniforms, put themselves in harm's way, to protect the citizens of this country and, for the sake of £38,000, they are being left to feel like they are being ignored, undervalued and dismissed."

However, Justice Minister David Ford accused Mr Nesbitt of making a "cheap political attack".

Mr Ford said: "The reality is that, following the devolution of justice, it was the Department of Finance, not the Department of Justice, who did a formal assessment and said the RUC Widows' Association was a private sector body.

"On that basis, it could only be funded by an application for grant aid.

"My officials have been working with them for well over a year, and have had numerous meetings. They have given all the assistance they can but they are still awaiting a proper application. They have been given plenty of time, they have been given plenty of assistance, but they have to make an application."

A spokesperson for the department said: "While the Department of Justice is no longer able to provide annual funding to the RUC GC Widows' Association, they can avail of the opportunity to apply for grant funding.

"Departmental officials have met with the association on a number of occasions to help progress a grant application.

"An incomplete grant application was received in November 2013.

"A further three meetings took place with the association to offer support and advice on the grant application process, but to date a final completed grant application has not been received by the department."

According to the Department of Justice, it was the Department of Finance and Personnel that had "determined the association's classification as being in the private sector and was therefore, not a function of government".

"The classification essentially changed the nature of the department's relationship with the association.

"As a result, the only mechanism available to the department to provide funding... would be via the grant application process."

The Widows' Association was formed to support the families of bereaved RUC officers by the then Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon in 1980.

The Widows Association said it did not wish to comment.

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