Victims' commissioner warns over Stormont legacy issues delay

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Judith Thompson
Image caption,
Judith Thompson said victims will not know how they feel about the draft legislation until they see it

The victims' commissioner has said that if a Stormont executive is not restored soon, Westminster may have to deal with legislation around legacy issues.

Judith Thompson was speaking after concerns were raised about the Northern Ireland Office's (NIO) plans for a consultation process on legacy issues.

She said some victims feel the time period is too short and may not be accessible enough.

In a speech at the British-Irish Association (BIA) Conference in Cambridge in September, James Brokenshire said he intended "to be in a position to bring forward a formal consultation as soon as possible" on legacy issues.

Speaking on BBC's Sunday Politics, Judith Thompson said she believed Mr Brokenshire has a good understanding of legacy issues but "there are uncomfortable aspects to this for parties, institutions and society but the cost of not doing (it) is incredibly high".

Mrs Thompson told the programme the Victims and Survivors Forum would be meeting the secretary of state on 25 September.

'Timely consultation needed'

She said the message from the group would be a "robust one".

"The message is: 'We need this to happen in a timely way, we have waited too long," she said.

"We need this to happen in a victim-led way and we are offering to help you with that.

"We know this is difficult and we want to help you with that. How can we help you do it?" she added.

The victims' commissioner withheld judgement on the draft consultation: "Until we see that draft legislation we don't know how we feel about it.

"We are very clear in principle, in terms of the consultation process, it needs to be done, first of all, in a timely way.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The Victims and Survivors Forum are due to meet NI Secretary James Brokenshire on 25 September

The time period for the consultation process will be 12 to 14 weeks, but the commissioner said that time period was too short.

"We had advised it should be longer. We need proper time for understanding.

"Equally it needs to be accessible, so while the idea of a website is fine, many people who are involved in this consultation are elderly, so we do need a way for it to be accessible to everyone and to those who won't find it easy to come forward.

"We think there should be oral and written submission. It must be an inclusive, fit-for-purpose process, led by victims and survivors themselves.

She said the lack of devolved institutions could negatively impact the process.

'Stormont vacuum'

"Some of the legislation is Westminster legislation and always would have been, so that can run and whilst it's best to do it in the presence of functioning executive, it can happen anyway.

"But there are other parts to it, for example the pension for the severely injured, which is a devolved matter.

"In the kind of vacuum we have at Stormont it means that what should be parallel legislation passing through at the same time, is encountering a delay.

"Our view is those devolved matters need to be referenced in the consultation, the timetable needs to be there.

"If we don't have a resolution at Stormont soon then those matters need to be dealt with at Westminster."

She said the longer the process is drawn out the more difficult it gets.

"Individually victims and survivors are seeing people die without getting answers to questions, which in a normal civic justice process they would have."