Judith Thompson the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors has warned that the vital consultation on proposed Legacy Institutions due to end on 10th September is in danger of a low response from victims and survivors in Northern Ireland.
She is calling on Government, local political representatives, Councils and area based civic groups to support more public events to reach the thousands of individual victims and survivors who have never told their story but who have a major contribution to make.
“This is probably the most important public consultation process since the Good Friday Agreement referendum. Yet the lack of a high profile public information campaign could result in thousands of victims and survivors in Northern Ireland missing out on the opportunity to have a say on the institutions designed to give them access to justice, information and services.
“The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency conducted a population survey for the Commission earlier this year and 26% of respondents said they were affected by the conflict in Northern Ireland. That is one in four of our total population.
“58% thought it was important or very important to deal with the legacy of the past and 73% supported the provision of a pension for the severely injured.
“These statistics tell us that the Legacy of the conflict is an issue for all of us and we all benefit if effective mechanisms are delivered to address these issues. This is our best opportunity to have a meaningful say in the design and delivery of the proposed institutions.
“While this is Westminster legislation our locally elected representatives have been virtually silent on the need for individual victims and survivors who are not involved in groups to be given the information and encouragement to have a say in how an Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, an Implementation and Reconciliation Group, and an Oral History Archive could be developed to benefit those who have suffered the most.
“To date the public debate has centred around an issue that is not in the proposed legislation. A Statute of Limitations or an Amnesty for security services cannot be delivered in isolation from others who have caused harm.
“This is a distraction that is in danger of generating a disproportionate response to the consultation from Great Britain and will effectively turn off potential respondents in Northern Ireland.
“The statutory duties of the Commission include the duty to advise the Secretary of State, the Executive Committee of the Assembly and any body or person providing services for victims and survivors on matters concerning the interests of victims and survivor. To that end we are launching a series of public and private events across Northern Ireland to provide information, generate feedback that will inform our advice and help those who want to contribute but need support.
“I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of the Victims and Survivors Groups who have been filling the gap in providing information events for their members and the support that the Victims and Survivors Service and the NIO Victims and Survivors Unit have given them.
“However, we also need to recognise that while they represent up to 20,000 people in NI there are more than 200,000 people who have been and feel they continue to be affected by the conflict. These are the silent majority who need to be supported and we cannot expect them to be engaged with a single government announcement and referral to a website.”