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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Victims and Survivors(Northern Ireland) Order

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Peter Atkinson
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Clapham, Mr. Michael (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)
Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
Durkan, Mark (Foyle) (SDLP)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Fraser, Mr. Christopher (South-West Norfolk) (Con)
Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow) (Lab)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)
Henderson, Mr. Doug (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab)
Hermon, Lady (North Down) (UUP)
Lidington, Mr. David (Aylesbury) (Con)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Mullin, Mr. Chris (Sunderland, South) (Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Wallace, Mr. Ben (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Seventh Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 1 November 2006

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Draft Victims and Survivors(Northern Ireland) Order

2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. I look forward to today’s deliberations on this important order, a draft of which was laid before the House on9 October and agreed by another place last week. I hope that members of the Committee will welcome it and give it their full support.
The order is brief, but I wish to outline its main provisions to the Committee. Its intention is to establish the position of a commissioner for victims and survivors for Northern Ireland. It provides for that person to be jointly appointed soon, I hope, by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Assembly. That is, of course, dependent on the return of devolution to Northern Ireland. As the Committee will know, all parties that are represented here today are making strenuous efforts to ensure that the return of the devolved Administration comes to fruition.
I am hopeful that, by 24 November, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) will take their positions as First Minister and Deputy First Minister designate for the full return of devolution on 26 March. In that event, if the order is approved today the appointment will fall to those individuals. In the absence of devolution, which obviously is a condition that I do not wish to see, the appointment will be one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
The principal aim of the commissioner will be to promote the interests of victims and survivors of the events in Northern Ireland during the past 30 and more years. Indeed, we have recognised in the order that the potential for victims will go back to perhaps as far as 1966. The person appointed will have a range ofduties, which are set out under articles 6 and 7 of the order. Those prime responsibilities include the duty for the commissioner to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of services provided for victimsand survivors by both statutory and voluntary organisations.
The commissioner will be under a duty to provide advice on matters concerning the interests of victims and survivors to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, indeed, in due course to the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Most importantly, the commissioner will be required by law to ensure that the views of victims and survivors are taken into account in the exercise of his or her functions. The commissioner will have a range of duties, but the prime responsibility will be to arrange for research, compile information and provide advice or information on any matter concerning the interests of victims and survivors.
Provision is also made for the commissioner to make arrangements for a victims and survivors forum. Bertha McDougall, the current Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, is currently examining that issue in detail. I pay tribute to her work as interim commissioner over the past 12 months or so that she has been in post. I have worked with her since my appointment with responsibility for victims matters in May of this year, and I have found her to be very focused, supportive and committed to victims and survivors.
As members of the Committee will understand, work in relation to victims and survivors and in addressing their needs is widespread and complex.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson, and this afternoon is no exception.
Will the Minister reflect on the anticipated size and composition of the forum for victims? Will he also acknowledge how difficult it will be for some victims and survivors to sit alongside those who might well have been responsible or whose relatives might have been responsible for their being in that position?
Mr. Hanson: Thank you, Mr. Atkinson, for allowing the hon. Lady to contribute to the debate in such away. She takes a great interest in these matters. I am awaiting a full detailed report from the interim commissioner, Bertha McDougall, on the proposals for a forum. She is working them through at the moment and I expect to receive them shortly.
I entirely accept the point made by the hon. Lady. It will be difficult for all victims and survivors to look at how we move forward on the problems of the last 30-odd years in Northern Ireland, without forgetting those problems. Many horrendous events have occurred, but there are also many opportunities for people to consider how we can make that move forward, and the proposals that I expect shortly from the interim commissioner will be important in helping to frame that consideration. I would rather wait until I receive her report in full and hear the composition of the potential forum, because the issues are complex and sensitive. Nevertheless, I can undertake to the hon. Lady that I want individuals in Northern Ireland to have an opportunity to respond to the commissioner’s proposals, because there is understandably still a lot of pain in many people’s lives, which needs to be recognised. We need the sensitivity to deal with that constructively and that is both the commissioner’s purpose and the purpose of the order.
As I said, work in relation to victims and survivors is very complex. I expect that the commissioner will have a number of functions. One will be as a strong voice to reflect the concerns of those who have suffered during the troubles in Northern Ireland—to the Executive, to the Northern Ireland Office and to the Secretary of State. The commissioner’s work should inform the future direction of policy on victims and survivors,and the commissioner should work strongly with Government to ensure that there is a proper approach.
The order provides that the detailed work of the commissioner will be subject to a work programme that will be agreed with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, acting jointly in the Assembly, or with the Secretary of State in the event that devolution does not return. The commissioner should produce an annual report giving details of the work that he or she has done, and that report should be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly or the House, depending on the situation concerning devolution.
Lady Hermon: Will the Minister clarify a smallbut important issue on the commissioner’s work programme? Who will have the last say on that? Will it be the commissioner, whom we all want to have a strong voice, or the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly? I see from the order that they will have a significant input to the work programme. If there is a conflict, who prevails?
Mr. Hanson: Ultimately, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister agree a work programme, and I do not wish to build conflict into the production of it. Under the order, the commissioner will, by the very nature of the office, produce a forward work programme, which must be agreed with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The commissioner is independent of the Assembly in that respect, but the work programme must be agreed by the Assembly through the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I expect there to be partnership and I am hopeful that there will be a joint programme. As the responsible Minister, I regularly meet the interim commissioner to discuss her work programme, and it would be a brave First Minister or Deputy First Minister who refused to accept suggestions for a work programme from the commissioner. The commissioner is not responsible for a budget for expenditure on victims’ issues; the commissioner is an adviser to the Government. So there needs to be buy-in from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister because they are ultimately responsible for the level of budget and for the programmes of expenditure.
The proposed draft order has been subject to public consultation and there is, and has been, general support for the idea of having a commissioner. There is clear recognition of the need to give support to victims and survivors in the issues that they face. I am aware that one issue of concern has been the definition of victims and survivors and I have received comments on that. I am extremely sensitive to the fact that many people believe that a distinction should be drawn between those actively involved in the conflict as participants on one side or another and those who have been innocently caught up in violent incidents or been victims of the conflict. The Government have considered the issue with great care. I understand the feelings of those who wanted only the innocent victim approach to be understood, but we have concluded that to draw a distinction would be counterproductive to hopes for a peaceful and stable future in Northern Ireland.
I cannot create a hierarchy of victimhood, but I want to ensure that all who regard themselves as victims of the conflict during that time have an opportunity to consider how they can work with victim and survivor issues, working with the commissioner for the good of all and for a positive future for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): The Minister does not want to create two levels of victims. Perhaps I should declare an interest: I myself was injured in Northern Ireland. Is he saying that he can rule some out categorically? Let us say that a man was sent down to the Maze for life imprisonment and suffered psychological trauma as a result of that sentence. Would that person be considered a victim?
Mr. Hanson: We define victims and survivors as people who define themselves as victims and survivors. I do not wish to draw an artificial distinction between a person who, for example, might feel hurt because they were involved in an incident that resulted in their family being killed by a bomb in a major city in Northern Ireland and a relative of somebody who was killed in conflict with the British Army or others.
I understand that there are distinctions, but I want to look forward for the future, so that the commissioner can take on board the issue of reconciliation, dealing with services for those defined as victims and ensuring a positive future for Northern Ireland as a whole. The Government have taken the view that to draw a distinction might create a poor start to the commissioner’s role. The interim commissioner, who will be defined as a victim herself because of her loss during the troubles—I am not breaking confidence, because people know her history—has taken that view also. We need a broad definition of victims and survivors so that we can provide decent levels of service, examine the issues affecting those individuals and help Northern Ireland establish a positive future.
I very much hope that the commissioner’s appointment following the order’s approval, as well as the other work that we are doing in Northern Ireland—establishing the Assembly, considering the possibility of power sharing, gaining Sinn Fein’s acceptance of the role of policing and creating developments such as this week’s demolition of the Maze prison for a regeneration site for sport, business and retail—are all signals that Northern Ireland can have a positive future. The commissioner’s role will be to help examine the needs of those who have suffered, for whatever reason, during those 30-plus years of conflict and to advise Government on what serviceswe need to provide.
I believe that the order will make a valuable contribution to meeting the needs of victims and survivors and to building a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. Nothing will ever change the fact that the conflict in Northern Ireland during the past40 years has been damaging to the people who live there in all parts of the community. It has split lives, killed over 3,500 people and caused tremendous suffering. The order will be one step toward helping the reconciliation process and ensuring that those who have suffered during those 40 years receive support and advice with the dignity that they deserve under the commissioner. I commend the order to the Committee.
2.45 pm
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I thank the Minister for his opening remarks. Usually, when we debate Northern Ireland affairs, I tend to be sceptical about measures to create new agencies, commissioners and inquiries, but I will certainly make an exception today. I have found my meetings with different groups of victims during the past three years to be undoubtedly the most harrowing and moving that I have had with any group of people in that part of the United Kingdom.
As Northern Ireland moves towards what we all hope will be an era of normal life of the sort that those of us who represent constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales have always been able to take for granted, it is vital that people who have suffered physical and mental trauma and the most appalling bereavements are not forgotten. They must have an individual and an organisation to stand forth clearly as the defender of their interests and their champion in making representations to the Government. I, too, pay tribute to the work that Bertha McDougall has already done. I have been to see her, and she is a formidable and determined lady who has already made a good start on the work that needs to be done.
I have two points to put to the Minister. The first is relatively minor, but it could have some significance. Under the heading “Duties of the Commissioner”, the order states:
“The Commissioner shall advise the Secretary of State, the Executive Committee of the Assembly and any body or person providing services”.
I hope that the term “any body or person” will extend to other United Kingdom Ministers. There might be occasions, particularly if we were discussing the disparities in compensation payments between Ulster Defence Regiment widows who lost their husbands at an early stage in the troubles and those who lost their husbands later on, when a commissioner might want to make representations direct to a Secretary of State for Defence or a Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope there can be no question but that a commissioner would be free so to do.
My second point is more in the way of an observation than a question. The Minister said that it is important that the definition of victims and survivors should be broad. He talked about the difficulty of drawing a distinction between people whom everyone might describe as innocent and those whom he termed direct participants in the conflict. I support the order, but we have to be very open with ourselves about what we are doing and what we are asking many victims and survivors to do.
The definition here places on the same level a woman whose husband was murdered in a sectarian killing such as the Kingsmill massacre in south Armagh, or the Ulster Volunteer Force or Ulster Defence Association killings in Belfast or Londonderry in more recent years, with the relative of an active volunteer in the IRA, UDA or UVF. We are putting the serviceman who has lost a limb, the policeman who has suffered mental trauma for years, the widow or orphan of a prison officer or the victim of a sectarian attack on a par with someone who has been an active participant in a paramilitary organisation that deliberately sought to defy the law and, in the case of the Provisional IRA, to overthrow the lawful authority of the state.
I do not argue with the Minister’s eventual conclusion. When I meet relatives of republicans, I can see that the grief of a widow is no less, whatever her husband did or did not do. We need to be clear-eyed about what we are asking people to do, and the fact that the person of the commissioner and his programme of work will, if devolution takes place, have to be approved jointly by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) shows the scale of the challenge. It will be for people in Northern Ireland to come to terms with the definitions we are debating. Despite those concerns, the order is right and we will support it.
2.51 pm
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken or intervened, I welcome the order. I have questions about it and issues to raise, and there is more that I would like to see in it, but that just means that there is more of an agenda of work that we all have to carry out to fulfil our obligations to victims and survivors.
Eight and a half years ago, the Good Friday agreement made promises to victims and survivors, and those promises have not been fulfilled, partly because of people holding back on bits of the agreement and the institutions being undermined and compromised in suspension, but partly because the process obsession in and around stand-offs and stunt politics has meant that, at times, the needs and concerns of victims were relegated.
The political process—both Government and political parties—addressed victims in an awkward and at times evasive way, as often the political process became intoxicated with all the talk of progress, moving on and bright new tomorrows. Many people were embarrassed when victims asked hard questions about where they fitted into this brand new future and whether—in our concern to rush forward to the future and to progress, which we obviously have to do—we were going to leave them, their loss and their hurt forgotten.
That is why the issue of victims and survivors has been a recurring concern of the Social Democratic and Labour party at the various talks that took place, whether at Leeds castle, Weston Park or Hillsborough in 2003. One thing that we welcome about the order is that at least it mentions the possibility of a victims and survivors forum. In the talks at Hillsborough in 2003, the Governments produced a joint declaration that said that consideration would be given to the establishment of such a forum. We wanted that declaration to say more about the function and purpose of the victims and survivors forum—that they would be about bringing forward ideas and proposals to meet victims’ needs on three key issues: truth, remembrance and recognition.
A previous Minister with responsibility for victims in Northern Ireland, who is now Secretary of State for Defence, told the SDLP at the time of the joint declaration that the reason that mention was made only of the consideration of a victims and survivors forum, not of what it might do, was that in the discussions at Hillsborough neither Sinn Fein nor the Ulster Unionist party agreed with it. I raise that not to upbraid either party, but to make the point that we could be locking ourselves into more difficulties than we want to be locked into. If, in providing for the new victims commissioner, that person’s work programme has to be approved, and can be modified, by the First and Deputy First Ministers, little might happen because one or the other might feel uncomfortable and so evade any responsibility for allowing things to move things forward.
In an intervention, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) asked some questions aboutthe idea of a victims and survivors forum. I welcome the fact that the order makes provision for the commissioner to bring forward proposals. When we proposed such a forum, we did not say that it had to have a fixed membership and be a delegate-based body in the style of, say, the Northern Ireland consultative forum. We want a body that can meet in various formats and perform its functions in different guises and roles for different victims, who have not only sensitivities about who they might be sitting down with, but their own needs, circumstances, stories and questions. A victims and survivors forum could be tailored to accommodate those different needs and be sensitive to the feelings of all victims and survivors.
We need a victims and survivors forum that can work alongside the commissioner. We have never said, “It is either a commissioner or a victims and survivors forum,” because we think that both concepts would complement each other well. The order establishes the Office of the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland, but because so much is subject to the First and Deputy First Ministers, it is important that the commissioner can show them, as well as the Executive and Ministers in the Assembly, that many of the issues that he or she is bringing forward have been washed through—talked through—in the forum and can say, “This is not just built on a wee anecdotal notion that has come from here or there. It is not just a ricochet from some partisan agenda. It is genuine and has been well thought through.”
We think that the forum has strong merit. In particular, we want to be assured that a victims and survivors forum would have some say in the work programme of the commissioner, because if the commissioner is meant to be promoting and serving the interests of victims and survivors, there is no reason for provision not being made to ensure that they themselves are satisfied that that is being done, and can show it, and can make common cause with the commissioner in moving the agenda forward.
On community relations and a shared future, given my experience as Deputy First Minister, I have concerns about the role that is being given to the First and Deputy First Ministers in approving and amending the work programme for the commissioner. That concern is not so fundamental that I will oppose the order, but I am conscious of the fact that whenever, during the previous period of devolution, we commissioned a former civil servant to look at some of the challenges of a shared future and the costs involved in providing segregated services, a report would be prepared and submitted to the First and Deputy First Ministers.
No such report was published during devolution, and nor was a consultation document sought on the shared future. Why? Because the First and Deputy First Ministers could not agree. We could not agree on something as basic as, “Should the concept of a shared society be mentioned in a consultation document?” The then First Minister felt that there would be neuralgia in the Unionist community if the concept of a shared community was consulted on and that it would understand “shared” to mean “neutral” in terms of Britishness—that it was about turning down the dimmer switch on Britishness and pumping up the volume on Irishness. He felt that that was how Unionists would read the concept of a shared society.
As far as I was concerned, those concerns and sensitivities, if they were real, were all the more reason why we needed a consultation. However, the fact is that because of the powers and functions, and the joint nature of the office, we ended up gridlocked. It was not until suspension and direct rule that some of those consultation documents saw the light of day. I am not blaming either the right hon. Member for North Antrim or the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster for the situation, because I have been in that role, but the issue caused a problem between David Trimble and myself, and we must be fair and realistic about the sensitive issues involved. It could become a real frustration for the commissioner, and for the victims and survivors. We must give the detail a bit more consideration, which is why a victims and survivors forum might be a means of assisting us so that things are not automatically referred to the First and Deputy First Ministers, who could be caught in a deadlock.
On the appointment of the commissioner, it is important to ensure that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister—or the Secretary of State if, sadly,it falls to him—do not repeat the way in whichthe interim commissioner was appointed. That is no criticism of the interim commissioner. Bertha McDougall is doing a very worthwhile job and was a very worthy appointee. However, the manner and circumstances of her appointment, with one party boasting about being consulted and the papers deeming one party to have approved her appointment when other people were not even consulted, did a disservice to the whole notion of that office and to a very good public appointee. We want to ensure that there is proper consideration of and consultation on future appointments.
In terms of the commissioner’s work, we also want to ensure that the commissioner gets due co-operation from Departments. We are not saying that the commissioner should necessarily have the same range of powers and capacities as, say, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, but we must be wary when the order is as silent as it is on what level of engagement and co-operation the commissioner can expect from Departments. It is one thing for the commissioner to be able to give advice, but there are issues about whether the victims commissioner will be able to get the quality of attention and response from Departments that the Commissioner for Children and Young People gets. We also need to address that in the future.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) rightly referred to the many meetings that he has had with victims while he has been in his position. I have had many meetings with many different victims as well. I know that the difficulty of the definition of victims has been raised, and we must be careful that we do not find ourselves almost generating a jealousy and a tension between different victims and different people who might see themselves as victims. One of the most common concerns that victims have is not necessarily what is happening for other victims or what other victims are getting; it is what they are not receiving. The problem is that promises turn out to be platitudes and victims are often patronised and ghettoised by the political process. So do we deliver, in straightforward terms? We pat them on the shoulder, and when they ask a basic question, we shrug our shoulders and say, “We don’t know. It’s awkward. It’s hard.” Even during the work done this summer by the Committee on the Preparation for Government, which looked at the past and the victims, parties again ended up at sixes and sevens on some things. That shows again that if the political process cannot deal with and address those matters properly, it is time to devolve them to the victims and survivors, and to make things good with the political process, where the Government have failed, even with the best of intentions. We should allow victims to come forward, which reinforces the value that there could be in a victims and survivors forum. I am very conscious that many of the victims that I have spoken to, even in recent weeks, want to see progress. They want theSt. Andrews deal to bring about the restoration of the institutions established by the Good Friday agreement; they want to see us make good the opportunities afforded to us by the agreement.
The victims also have mixed feelings. The progress that we are on the threshold of making also brings home to many victims the utter futility of their loss. People are settling for a new beginning to policing, Executive power sharing and north-south ministerial co-operation—people who spent years opposing those concepts, through either violence or political vehemence. Many of the victims that we are talking about lost their lives unnecessarily in the years between Sunningdale and a settlement that is basically Sunningdale digitally remastered. When people see that control over the commissioner and the commissioner’s work programme will fall to two people who were associated with either the political vehemence or justifying the violence, they will understand the mixed feelings that the victims may have.
We must address the victims honestly. They feel that we are trying to tell them to draw a line under the past. One widow asked me, “What happens if all you have is the past?” That woman had lost her son and her husband and had to sell the family farm. There is nobody to carry their family name—it is lost to that townland on the Armagh-Tyrone border. By using the office of the commissioner and the victims and survivors forum, and by ensuring that parties address fully the need to deal with truth, remembrance and recognition, we must lift the burden of remembrance from that widow’s shoulder. That is the promise that we made in the Good Friday agreement, and it is a promise that we still have to keep. I welcome the order as something that goes some way to taking us further toward that goal.
In making some of those points and in raising some challenges, I am not criticising or raising challenges for government, but raising criticisms and challenges for the Northern Ireland political parties collectively.
3.7 pm
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate and the publication of the order, with legislative provision to create, among other things, a victims commission. That is something that I have long argued for; indeed, I remember raising the matter with the Prime Minister just after I was elected to the House in 1997 in discussions in advance of the Belfast agreement. It has taken us a long time to get to this point. Nevertheless, it is worth while that we are here. There is much work to be done by the commission.
Throughout the political process and especially under the Belfast agreement, it was often the case that the interests and concerns of the innocent victims of terrorist violence were ignored. Indeed, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) alluded to that. Well-meant objectives were set out, but often they were not matched by delivery for the people who have a real need for the recognition of their suffering and for an understanding of how difficult the period of transition has been for many victims.
My experience of meeting many of the people who have suffered suggests that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for addressing the needs of victims. I have met people on all sides of the community: some have lost people to paramilitary violence or know of people who died having been caught in crossfire. Victims are individuals and so have individual needs. They have reacted and responded to the transition from conflict to—hopefully—a peaceful society in different ways. There are people who have accepted the compromises that have been required as a result of the process. Those compromises have at times been deeply hurtful to many of the victims. The release of the prisoners, for example, caused much consternation among victims in Northern Ireland. There were others who accepted that that was part of the process of moving forward, but it has been difficult. We must try to create a framework within which people’s need for recognition can be accommodated in the best way possible.
We have had much debate in Northern Ireland about the concept of a forum for victims. I recognise the work that the hon. Gentleman has done in this regard; he and I have discussed the issue in the past. There is no consensus among the victims, however, that we should follow a similar process to that of the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa, for example. Northern Ireland, with an average population during the troubles of slightly more than 1.5 million, has some 2,000 unsolved murders. That is a legacy of the troubles that cuts deeply among those who have suffered. Many of those people feel that they have been denied justice. Some of them have moved beyond the point of having any expectation of justice, but many still want to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones.
A forum has a role to play, but we must be very careful with its design. I commend Bertha McDougall, the interim commissioner, for the excellent job that she has done. She has reached out to the victims, given them a voice and engaged with them. More importantly, she has listened to them, and after reflecting on what they have said, she has put forward four options to be considered as a possible model for a victims and survivors forum. I will not prescribe the form that the model should take, because that should primarily be the role of the commissioner and the victims and survivors themselves. We must be careful to create a forum that is meaningful, which offers hope and the opportunity for people to share their stories, as well as allowing them to gain proper recognition. That includes financial recognition, because many of the victims have not just suffered physical wounds, they have also suffered financially.
In the early years of the troubles, the compensation paid was inadequate and that is recognised. Many people—widows with young families in particular—struggled single-handedly to bring up children. Those widows are some of the finest people that I have met in Northern Ireland—indeed, in my lifetime. They provided for their families despite the most difficult of circumstances, acting with dignity at all times. They did not go looking for handouts; they just struggled on. We have a duty to do something for those people. I know that Bertha McDougall has been looking at the possibility of a commissioner assisting with that important work.
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