Victim Services ‘Need Fresh Plan’

Services to help victims of the Troubles are uncoordinated and lack any long-term funding strategy, a report has suggested. Victims Commissioner Bertha McDougall warned that available money would be dramatically reduced by 2007. “The over-riding impression is that services for victims are policy-driven rather than focused on specific and changing needs,” she said. She said more than 120,000 people in NI were directly affected by the Troubles. Mrs McDougall is publishing her interim report on Thursday, six months after she was appointed by the government.

She said that while there were many pockets of good practice, they were not consistent across all areas of Northern Ireland and not accessible to everyone. Lack of co-ordination had led to confusion, duplication of funding, gaps in funding, over-administration and an incomplete picture of provision, she said.

She said that government had provided £36.4m in funding since 1998, while Europe had added another £7.6m. “Much of this funding is coming to an end and it is imperative that we establish a service that is adequately funded, resourced and strategically planned,” she said.

“Conservative estimates put the number of people directly affected by the Troubles at over 120,000. These people and their carers need to be provided for in a sustainable way.

“Current funding arrangements allow for one-off grants and group support. However, greater flexibility could benefit individuals.”

Mrs McDougall said ongoing support tailored to the changing needs of victims and survivors was necessary. “Funding is about practical aspects – it is to do with support for emotional aspects, for physical injuries and financial provision for people,” she told BBC News.

“There has been a willingness for funding – funding is there – it has tended to come through government departments, and of course, each department has its own priorities.

“Therefore, there is no co-ordination of the funding… that is where you get an overlap and duplication.”

One of the major concerns was the reduction and potential disappearance of “peace money”, said Mrs McDougall. “There has been no attempt to actually consider what will be the impact on the work of groups when this funding is reduced.”

The minister responsible for victims, David Hanson, said he welcomed the report. “We do have a significant amount of European money that has been coming into Northern Ireland – not just to support victims – but to support a range of initiatives throughout Northern Ireland, which is now drying up and needs to be managed and challenged for the future.

“We in government are taking the issue very seriously – we are looking to what we can do in the long term, to help support a wider victims’ strategy.”

Mrs McDougall was appointed Commissioner for Victims and Survivors last October by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain. Her husband, Lindsay, was killed by the INLA in 1981. An ex-primary school teacher, she set up the victims’ group, Forgotten Families.