Secretary of State urged to ditch victims’ commissioner

Victims and Survivors Commissioner Judith Thompson. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye
Victims and Survivors Commissioner Judith Thompson. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye
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The reappointment of the NI victims’ commissioner would be a “calculated kick in the teeth for innocent victims,” Jim Allister has said.

The TUV leader was commenting after the under fire victims’ advocate revealed she would be happy to remain in post beyond the completion of her tenure at the end of this month.

Judith Thompson has been heavily criticised over her stance on the proposed pension for everyone seriously injured during the Troubles – including those hurt while engaged in terrorist activity.

A number of terror victims, and all of the main unionist parties, have accused the commissioner of not using her influence to prevent former terrorists receiving payouts.

Ms Thompson has based her pension provision advice to government around the legal definition contained in the 2006 Victims and Survivors (NI) Order – which makes no distinction between victims of terrorism and perpetrators.

However, the commissioner has stated that she sees “no moral equivalence” between the two.

In a letter to the Secretary of State, Mr Allister has urged the NIO head not to reappoint Ms Thompson.

“Her period in the post can only be described as disastrous, having lost as she has the support of the innocent victims of terrorism,” Mr Allister wrote.

“The fact that never once during her term of office did she call for the introduction of a definition of a ‘victim’ which removes the current equivalence between victim and victim-maker, is a token of her monumental failure as a supposed victims’ commissioner.

“Moreover, her support for a terrorist on the Victims’ Forum at the expense of an elderly innocent victim, epitomised, for me, the flaw at the heart of her mindset.”

Mr Allister added: “Her failure to demand that any victims’ pension must only be available to the innocent and not victim-makers, is but one of many examples in a tenure that has failed to serve innocent victims and in consequence has lost the confidence of that sector.

“You will also note that, following the belated statement from the DUP [on Tuesday], she has lost the support of all the unionist parties. She must go.”

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United (IVU) said on Wednesday that with 23 IVU attached groups, and the three main unionist parties, having stated they no longer have trust or confidence in the commissioner, the commissioner’s position is untenable.

“The Orange Order has stated likewise, not to mention the many individual victims/survivors from across the community who have written to newspapers, issued complaints and contacted our respective offices expressing their deep concerns,” he said.

“The commissioner has refused to face the realities of this situation, the pensions issue is the straw that has broken the camel’s back but is merely reflective of a wider trend where the commissioner has backed overtly or covertly the fringe position of perpetrators and a communal victimhood narrative.”

On Tuesday, DUP MP Emma Pengelly said: “The commissioner has lost the confidence of a large swathe of the people whom her office is meant to represent. It is impossible for her to now carry out her role to the full in these conditions.”

In response to the DUP statement, UUP MLA Doug Beattie said: “We welcome the fact that the DUP has now caught up with public opinion and finally reached the conclusion – which has been obvious for weeks – that Ms Thompson cannot fulfil the role of victims’ commissioner with any credibility. We hope that their much lauded influence with the Conservative party can be used to ensure there is a change of commissioner.

“We now invite the DUP to reassess their support for the Stormont House legacy proposals, which those same victims groups that have lost faith in the victims’ commissioner, also do not support. The Ulster Unionist Party has consistently highlighted the flaws in the Stormont House legacy arrangements, particularly in the form of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).”

Speaking on the Good Morning Ulster radio programme on Wednesday, Ms Thompson said the pension eligibility issue was outside her remit.

“My advice [to government] addressed the terms of reference I was given,” she said.

“It was absolutely clear that whilst the vast majority of people for whom this is intended are not contentious, are in terrible need and have been poorly served by an inability to move forward. The political issue of who shall not get it, or who we resolve that issue is for politicians and not the commissioner.”

Speaking on the Good Morning Ulster radio programme on Wednesday, the victims’ commissioner said the contentious pension eligibility issue was outside her remit.

“My advice [to government] addressed the terms of reference I was given,” Ms Thompson said.

“It was absolutely clear that whilst the vast majority of people, for whom this is intended are not contentious, are in terrible need and have been poorly served by an inability to move forward.

“The political issue of who shall not get it, or who we resolve that issue is for politicians and not the commissioner,” she added.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the commission said: “The Commissioner for Victims and Survivors says she totally agrees that there is no moral equivalence between those who have caused harm and those who have suffered harm.

“The definition of a victim was laid down by Parliament as the ultimate democratic authority. The commission has never, since its inception, sought to change the legislation on which it was created.

“At no point did the commissioner address eligibility and nor was she expected to.”

The statement goes on to say: “The commissioner has previously welcomed the fact that the VASPA (Victims and Survivors Pensions Arrangement) has been passed by Parliament and it was Parliament that determined the eligibility criteria.

“Finally, the office of the commission is for everyone who has suffered harm and many different perspectives come through that door. That is why the commission was established.

“The work towards continuing peace and reconciliation has to be uncomfortable for everyone, even the commission, but the prize has to be worth it.”