Stormont minister Danny Kennedy has launched a blistering attack on the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, accusing it of putting a “shrine” at the Maze before victims of terrorism.
The UUP MLA for Newry and Armagh expressed his outrage yesterday that the Armagh Phoenix support group faces closure because of what he said was a lack of funding for some victims’ groups.
Mr Kennedy said: “The Armagh Phoenix Group, which supports former soldiers, policemen, prison officers and their families, now faces closure because the Office of First and Deputy First Minister isn’t supplying the funds to keep it open. “This is a disgraceful decision from OFMDFM and is a shameful way to treat those who placed themselves in harm’s way to defend the whole community.
“I have been approached by the Armagh branch development officer of the Phoenix Group who explained that former members of the security forces rely on Phoenix for support and assistance.
“I am also aware that the Moira branch office has already closed, others will close at the end of September and all the staff are currently on notice.
“I am writing to OFMDFM urging them to find the money to keep the Phoenix Group open. If they can find millions of pounds to build a shrine at the Maze surely they can find the money that will keep these offices open.”
Markethill victims’ group FAIR said it had spoken to victims’ groups covering most of Northern Ireland about the cuts.
The group said: “We now believe it is time that they [OFMDFM] put their hands up and confirmed they are not going to give any more money to the innocent victims but it is their intention to destroy them by depriving them of the support and help they need.
“The likes of an atrocity like Kingsmills, one of the worst atrocities, has been given no help whatsoever while at the same time over £200m was spent on Bloody Sunday. How do they expect our community to feel whenever you compare one atrocity to another?”
An OFMDFM spokeswoman said it has not cut financial support to the Armagh Phoenix Group. “The group was in receipt of time-limited EU funding over which OFMDFM has no control,” she said. “The PEACE III money was provided to groups on the basis it would be time limited and additional to government funding.”
Ministers have priorised the needs of victims and survivors by protecting a budget of £11.3m per annum, however a “significant number” of new victims have come forward for funding, she added.