Politicians criticise reappointment of Victims’ Commissioner
There has been criticism following the announcement that the Victims’ Commissioner has been reappointed.
Judith Thompson will continue to serve as Northern Ireland Commissioner for Victims and Survivors for 12 months until August 2020.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith made the announcement on Friday, adding he was leaving the long-term future of the role up to the Stormont Assembly when it is functioning again.
In a statement, Ms Thompson confirmed she has accepted her reappointment.
The commissioner attracted criticism from some politicians and victims earlier this year over the definition of a victim.
The Victims and Survivors (NI) Order 2006 makes no distinction between paramilitaries who were killed or injured and victims.
It was included in advice Ms Thompson gave to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) around a Troubles pension.
The three main unionist parties criticised the reappointment.
DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly challenged Mr Smith to explain his decision.
“Last month I wrote to the Victims’ Commissioner explaining the loss of confidence she has suffered amongst victims and urging her to change course. That such a large swathe of those the commissioner is tasked to represent do not have confidence in her makes it impossible for Judith Thompson to carry out the role fully. This is something she should reflect on,” she said.
“The Secretary of State must also explain his decision to the people who matter most – the innocent victims. Most victims will feel let down by the decision. Mr Smith should now outline what engagement he had with innocent victims before making this appointment.”
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann described the decision as “appalling”.
“This goes against the wishes that have been aired by victims. They have not been listened to in the past and they are being ignored now,” he said.
“A 12-month reappointment does not look like a vote of confidence. This announcement will cause concern that the Northern Ireland Office still isn’t listening.”
TUV leader Jim Allister added: “The commissioner has become a partisan figure in political terms – supported by Nationalists while every Unionist party has called for her to be replaced. What is remarkable is that she has retained her job in spite of a Unionist party propping up the Government,” he said.
“Just last week I wrote to the Secretary of State to tell him that reappointing Judith Thompson would be preposterous and a calculated kick in the teeth for innocent victims. Sadly the Secretary of State has decided to deliver that kick in the full knowledge of the hurt and offence it will cause.”
Kenny Donaldson, of Innocent Victims United, also criticised the re-appointment.
“27 victims groups openly and publicly stated their lack of confidence and trust in the leadership offered by the existing Victims’ Commissioner, the three main unionist political parties were clear that the commissioner needed to cease her period in office and others were public in their opposition to her continuance in the role,” he said.
Ms Thompson was first appointed Victims’ Commissioner in August 2015 by then first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.
On Friday she said in a statement her first priority will be to ensure a strategy is in place to safeguard the current funding package of almost £14 million to meet the health and wellbeing needs of those impacted by the Troubles.
She has also pledged to work closely with partners and stakeholders to deliver advice on a new strategy for victims and survivors of the conflict post 2021, and advocated for the establishment of a regional trauma network to help those who continue to be affected by the region’s troubled past.
“To help me in the task of advising government, in the coming weeks I will be commencing the process to replenish the Victims and Survivors Forum and will be seeking applications from those whose collective experiences represent the breadth of victims’ and survivors,” Ms Thompson said.