THE Victims’ Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Kathryn Stone took questions from readers during a live webchat on the News Letter website on Thursday.
Ms Stone, OBE, was appointed to the position in September last year, taking over from Patricia MacBride, Brendan McAllister and Bertha McDougall.
Below is the webchat in full:
Kathryn Stone: Well done for overcoming all the many and various hurdles to formally constitute a group!
This is a very long question! I would like to meet with you to discuss this in more detail. Please can you make contact through the commission? firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment From Guest
Hello Kathryn, I represent a victims’ group from the Castlederg area, where over two dozen Protestants were murdered by the IRA during the Troubles. No-one was ever placed before a court and charged with any of the murders. Derg Valley Victims’ Voice was formally constituted just last week. The members have stated that they want their lost loved ones to be remembered; that they want justice; and that they want all parties who had any part to play in the murder of their loved ones to be held accountable for their actions. We consider the government of the Republic of Ireland to have failed in its responsibilities as a ‘good neighbour’ by not securing its’ side of the border in Co. Donegal and would welcome an international inquiry into its failings – frankly, the Dublin Government allowed its’ sovereign territory to be used as a safe haven for terrorists. As a result, the IRA could train, build bombs and launch murder attacks form its’ territory on the isolate protestant population of Castlederg unimpeded. Will you back our call for an international inquiry?
Kathryn Stone: I have met a number of families who believe the perpetrators are already dead and so cannot be brought to justice. This is very hard for those families. however we can help in other ways. For example, ensuring the services that are provided to support people deal with bereavement, financial difficulties and so on, are the best they can be. We have a working group of the Forum who are considering this and will advise the commission where recommendations need to be made for additional resources.
Comment From Lorna Smyth
Do you accept that many, many victims’ relatives will never find justice and that many of the perpetrators may already be dead? What can you offer these people, in terms of a service?
Kathryn Stone: The debates about who and who is not a victim will continue to happen. As I said just now, I have to work within the law and the legal definition. I have been privileged to meet many victims. Some have been bereaved, some have been seriously injured, some have psychological scars as a consequence of what happened. This is not a victims mentality. This is what happened. We need to ensure that all victims and survivors get the very best help and support they need. They expect nothing more and deserve nothing less
Comment From Tom
Would it not be better for Northern Ireland’s future stability if this victim mentality about who and what is a victim was stopped, and the real victims of the Troubles were allowed to grieve in peace. Only those on the extremes win by picking at this scab.
Kathryn Stone: hope my previous answer was useful
Comment From Patricia
Do you see a role for the Commission in advocating for a strategy to “Deal with the Past”?
Kathryn Stone: Our Forum working group on “Dealing with the Past” has been looking carefully at what steps can be taken to address what happened in the past. The working group are putting together an advice paper for me to consider. There will be a number of options proposed, informed by their research and their lived experience.
Comment From anon
Do you think a truth and reconciliation forum will ever materialise?
Kathryn Stone: I have had a number of meetings with individuals and families about the loss of their loved ones. Some of these meetings have been made public, at the request of the families. for example, recent discussions with the Ballymurphy Families.
I have also, when requested, contacted the Police Ombudsman’s office, the Coroners Office, the Historical Enquiries Team and others to help families in their campaigns for Truth, Justice and Acknowledgment.
Comment From anon
Victims say they have no champion and their calls for investigations into their loved ones murder goes answered. How do you plan to help them?
Kathryn Stone: As Victims Commissioner I am required to work within the legal definition of a Victim. This is someone who has been bereaved, been injured (physically or psychologically) or someone who is caring for someone who has been injured.
I do know that some people are not happy with this legal definition but, you will appreciate that I have to work within the law
Comment From Brian Maxwell
How would you PERSONALLY define a “victim”..?
Kathryn Stone: I’m sorry you haven’t heard anything more about the role and the work of the Commission. I have been working hard to get out there and meet as many people who are victims as I can, and also meeting with victims groups. Where it is appropriate we tweet about this on our twitter account, @nivictimscom. you can see these on our website too www.cvsni.org.
Clearly we need to do more to let people know about our work - doing this webchat is part of that.
Comment From anon
I heard of your appointment some months ago, and nothing since. What is your actual role?
Kathryn Stone: I think it is win win. I had no real personal connection with Northern Ireland before my appointment. “Must not be English” was not be part of the Job Description. Having a real understanding of the needs of victims was. I come with no political baggage, no bias and no preconceptions but have many years experience of working with victims and survivors. i have a real determination to ensure the very best for victims and survivors here.
Comment From anon
Do you have any connection with Northern Ireland? If so will it not influence your thinking one way or the other on victims issues? If not are you really able to empathise with the feelings of victims here? (Perhaps it is a lose-lose situation)
Kathryn Stone: First of all it is important to acknowledge the valuable work that has been and continues to be done by Victims groups over many years. People have been helped for many years by groups in their communities they trust and know.
We need to ensure that people are being supported by those with knowledge, skill and experience to help them. Qualifications aren’t always necessary - it depends on what is being provided, but they do signal a commitment to continuing professional development. That has to better for victims
Comment From Mary
I would like ask Kathryn Stone, does she think that people running victims groups and delivering services should be qualified?