Speaking on news of the withdrawal of legislation on Victims and Survivors at the Assembly Relatives for Justice Director Mark Thompson said:
In terms of the present legislation enabling four commissioners some unionists have sought to use this as an opportunity to redefine Victims and Survivors to create a hierarchy of victims over this past few weeks. Indeed the UUP and DUP are engaged in an internal unionist battle on this issue all vying to see who can be the most extreme with a series of ridiculous proposed legislative motions and changes circulating Stormont. It is our understanding that these have been firmly rejected by OFMDFM.
Undoubtedly there is now a focus on proposed changes by the Alliance Party that will in effect facilitate the creating of a hierarchy of victims through the backdoor. The Alliance Party must publicly state their position in terms of their proposed changes around a chief commissioner and a two thirds majority decision-making process addressing the potential that it would indirectly contain for the redefinition and ultimate hierarchy of victims via this new construct, which is not what the majority of victims and survivors want.
Withdrawing the legislation in the context of preventing a hierarchy of victims from being established was the right decision. Attempting to create a hierarchy of victims is in no ones interest – rather it will impact negatively and undo much of the positive work achieved throughout the sector to date under the current OFMDFM working policy definition of victims which enjoys widespread support across the community. As part of the previous Stormont administration there was an extensive consultation on Victims and Survivors which culminated in the strategy of ‘Reshape, Rebuild, Achieve‘. The definition contained in that strategy was arrived at through consensus and has served the sector and the community extremely well over this past several years without any controversy whatsoever.
Those who seek to create division via a hierarchy of victims must understand that this is an old and failed agenda of the past. We have all moved on – the days whereby manipulating victims and survivors for political capital and point scoring was commonplace amongst anti-agreement unionists are over.
Victims and Survivors have universal needs that must be addressed in a mature, comprehensive and even handed way. We are calling on all the Alliance Party, Sinn Fein and the SDLP to state their position in terms of the current working definition of victims and survivors. We are also asking the politicians to consult with victims and survivors.
Editors Notes – Current definition as contained in OFMDFM Victims and Survivors strategy ‘Reshape, Rebuild, Achieve‘ – ‘The surviving physically and psychologically injured of violent, conflict-related incidents and those close relatives or partners who care for them, along with the close relatives or partners who mourn their dead.’