An MEP says he has been “astounded” by cuts of almost 4.5 per cent in funding already promised to victims’ groups across Northern Ireland.
The Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) wrote to victims’ groups earlier this month highlighting “a range of financial pressures facing the Northern Ireland Executive”.
As a result it said it needs to make adjustments to the Victims Support Programme.
“Specifically we need to secure efficiencies of the order of 4.42 per cent in relation to your existing letter of offer” it said by letter.
Speaking from the offices of the FAIR victims group in Markethill, UUP MEP Jim Nicholson responded: “First of all I was astounded that they would consider sending a letter to the victims of violence to take money back off them that they had already awarded.
“If this is part of the cutbacks that the DUP and Sinn Fein are having their arguments over at Stormont I think this is an atrocious situation to place on the people who can least afford it.”
FAIR spokesman Willie Frazer said they only received funding for two part-time workers and their running costs which is “barely enough to keep us going”.
He added: “This is the worst affected area of the conflict and it is getting very very little compared to other areas that haven’t been affected. So 4.5 per cent of very little is a big, big problem.”
John Beggs, Secretary to the Commission for Victims and Survivors which oversees the VSS, said that he has “strenuously expressed our concerns that budget reductions should have minimal impact on frontline services”.
VSS will visit each group to help them find savings as far as possible “within their own administrative costs or in any planned activities that will no longer take place” he said.
The service will continue to inform the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the impact of the cutbacks.
It is “essential that those who have suffered most for so many years are given priority” for support, he added.
Mr Nicholson also called on the Executive to release an audit into FAIR’s finances.
In July 2010, the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) – a Stormont quango – withdrew core Peace funding from FAIR, saying it had failed to adhere to tendering conditions.
A resulting audit report was completed in 2011 but remains confidential. Willie Frazer was given a legal warning not to disclose its contents.
Mr Nicholson said he recently discussed the report with SEUPB, and neither it nor FAIR wish to keep it confidential.
“The report is with the relevant departments at Stormont and SEUPB are awaiting them to make whatever decision they are going to make,” he said.
The delay is “holding back” south Armagh victims from getting proper support, he added. OFMDFM said it has now no objection to the report being published.