Green light for Victim Commissioner’s plan to improve service delivery

The First and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland have approved a raft of recommendations from the Victims Commissioner which she believes will greatly speed up support services for survivors of the Troubles.

Commissioner Kathryn Stone said yesterday that the First and Deputy First Minister had approved her 55 recommendations in only a week.

The development came after her straight-talking appearance before the Stormont committee for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) at the end of last year, where she expressed serious concern about the provision of support services available for victims of the Troubles.

She was then asked by OFMDFM in November to carry out an assessment of how the system should be changed.

“All those individuals, families, groups and agencies who took part in the independent assessment will be pleased to hear that their views have been listened to, acknowledged and will be acted upon,” she said yesterday.

“It is to the credit of all concerned that the independent assessment report, recommendations and advice will be published enabling the public to have confidence that all agencies involved welcome scrutiny and constructive challenge.”

She said she had no regrets about the tense meeting with the OFMDFM committee in October and that she felt she had to be clear about shortcomings if she was to act with “integrity”.

Victims should already be starting to see differences in service delivery she said. Victim support services going forward should be much more victim-centred and much less focused on administration.

The results for people such as Troubles widows and those with serious injuries is that financial support for matters such as heating or laundry services should be completed much more quickly and with much less intrusive application forms.

First Minister Peter Robinson said yesterday: “We now have 55 recommendations and further advice from the Commissioner, to assist us in moving forward to get things right for victims and survivors.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness added: “We will continue to work in collaboration with the Victims Commissioner and the Victims and Survivors Service to take action where it is needed and ensure we meet the needs of all victims and survivors.”

But UUP leader and former Victims Commissioner Mike Nesbitt expressed shock at the contents of the commissioner’s report.

“OFMDFM stand condemned for what the report calls the ‘serious failing’ of leaving the Victims and Survivors Service without a properly constituted board to offer strategic direction and oversight until December 2013. This should never have been allowed to happen,” he said.