Representing Victims of Terrorism in South Armagh
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The report by Interim Victims Commissioner Bertha McDougal simply confirms what FAIR have been saying for almost 6 years, our experience as one of the first victims groups is a case study of bad government practice. For too long the sector has been suffocated and sidelined by successive government personalities and policies. We have had endless meeting with the government, funders, European officials and others to fight for a fair deal for victims. Indeed at out own expense we have been to Europe London and Washington to highlight the inequalities and the lack of engagement by government.

While we welcome the appointment of Mrs McDougal we note that it is an almost identical step to one taken in 1998 with Ken Bloomfield. The government pushes and coerces victims to 'move on' - cruel civil service speak for 'put up and shut up, sit down with the perpetrators and accept the political developments'. Yet they have not moved one inch in terms of their approach to victims. The present Commissioner is a repeat performance of the Bloomfield Commission, which displeased Republicans when it commended the security and ancillary services; and after their opposition the government refused to fully implement the Bloomfield Report's Recommendations. This is our primary fear with the current Interim Commissioner, with victims hopes once more raised - will the government cruelly dash them again?

In funding terms we disagree with her estimations of funding provided to date. Firstly she had been over reliant on the civil servants appointed as her staff, and also on official government figures. The figures government use are blatant lies, they are the worst example of government double accounting and if the same practice were used by a business they would be prosecuted. The 36 million spoken of represents money that would be spent on health care and other services anyway; it is not victim specific and has largely been wasted on bureaucracy and the funding of government 'pet' projects. Much of the money has gone to service provision, which is proof that the existing statutory provision was not and is not fit for purpose. This also means that service providers, project managers, bureaucrats and others have benefited from millions while victims still suffer.

The sum itself must be put in context, while no amount of money could ever repay the price we all owe to our victims especially those who served and sacrificed with the security forces, the sum offered is an insult. Let us compare it to the money saved in security spending here, or indeed the amount spend in Iraq each day; while victims live in debt the government has written off Billions of pounds of Third World debt. In Northern Ireland the government has spent almost as much on one initiative, which cynics would say was aimed at buying a peaceful summer in Belfast. Perhaps the starkest comparison is the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which will cost when it is concluded over 160 million! In other words four times the money has been spent on 13 victims in Londonderry than on the other 130,000.

The government has failed victims at every turn, they have refused to increase core funding which at this present time has been frozen pending the outcome of the Commissioner. Indeed while victims believed her appointment to be a good thing, they now realise it is a stalling tactic, with the government keeping victims on the long finger until next year when the political dealing will be concluded. Indeed the victims have never been worse off, with many groups facing closure, in the past eight months we have lost four workers. Smaller groups are unable to continue and the good work they have done will be lost, and thousands of victims left deserted and distraught. The government has also been unwilling to secure a specific victims fund within the European Peace funding, in the same way as women have been guaranteed.

In short we can only conclude that such failures are purposed and planned, with the aim of strangling the victims sector. During the Troubles our loved ones were seen as expendable by the government, and now we who are left behind are equally treated. The government, certain funders and local politicians foolishly believe that if they can withhold funds and support the victims will simply disappear. How wrong they are, our belief in ourselves and in our work is absolute, and we have shown that unless the victims are dealt with - THERE WILL BE NO DEAL! Any attempt to ignore or suppress victims will no longer be tolerated. We support the Commissioner's Report as far as it goes, it confirms our interpretation of the problem now we wait for government to propose a solution.

In this regard we have learnt much from the Secretary of State's negotiating strategy. We are setting a deadline of July 24th for government to announce Emergency Interim Measures to sustain the victims sector, until the Commissioner's Report is implemented. In the run up to that date we now demand a working meeting with the Victims Minister, to outline the immediate needs of groups which now face closure. Resources much be provided to continue this vital work, especially at this time of year. The government have clearly conceded a need now they must act to address it. If they refuse then victims will take their campaign to the streets and will link a series of protests to the political process, culminating in a mass rally prior to the government's November deadline for a deal.


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