Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson ‘should explain why her report launch clashed with Stormont terror victims event’

The victims’ commissioner has been asked to explain why she waited two months to publish a report, after citing its publication date as the reason for not attending an annual victims event in Stormont.

Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 5:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 9:45 am
Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson has been challenged to clarify the reasons for her non-attendance at an annual Stormont victims event

In yesterday’s News Letter, Commissioner Judith Thompson faced serious criticism for failing to attend the annual European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism event.

The event attracted a record 300 delegates on Monday, with vocal support from DUP, UUP, TUV, Alliance and SDLP MLAs who attended.

The audience heard powerful first-hand accounts from victims of terrorism. However, despite being invited, Ms Thompson, whose role is to represent victims, was not present.

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The March 11 date has been marked as a terror victims remembrance date around Europe since the Madrid train bombings on that date in 2004, which saw almost 200 killed and some 2,000 injured.

In yesterday’s News Letter, a spokesperson for the commissioner said: “We were grateful to receive an invitation to this event following our attendance at it last year.

“Unfortunately this year it coincided with the launch of the commission’s policy advice ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past’.

“The commission have and will consistently advocate on behalf of all victims and survivors.”

However, former victims commissioner Mike Nesbitt said the report Ms Thompson published on Monday was actually dated on the cover ‘January 2019’. He asked why it had to be delayed two months for release, until European Day for Remembrance of Victims of Terrorism.

“Why did the commission decide to publish the advice paper on March 11 when it had submitted it to the secretary of state in January?” he asked.

“The commission had it in its gift to make the diary clash go away, but Jim Allister, who organised the Stormont event, didn’t.”

Given the advice paper was dated January 2019, he said, he “did not see the problem with delaying publication” until the day after the Stormont victims event, given that it is an annual event the commission was aware of.

The MLA said one of the statutory responsibilities of the commissioner is to seek out victims’ views regarding how the commission does its work. He was “in no doubt” that if she had attended Stormont “several hundred victims” would have told her of their anger that the commission backs the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) legacy proposals. While heavily criticised by the UUP, the SHA is strongly supported by the DUP.

Ken Funston, advocacy manager with the South East Fermanagh Foundation, noted that Mr Thompson has attended a number of major Sinn Fein events but had failed to attend the 30th anniversary event for the Enniskillen Poppy Day bomb.

“Many have suggested that the commissioner is seemingly on the same hymn page as Sinn Fein through her support for the SHA even though she knows many victims do not support it,” he said.

Innocent Victims United (IVU) spokesman Kenny Donaldson said victims had asked him why Ms Thompson organised an event which clashed with the Stormont date, if she could not have sent a representative in her place, and why she sent no message of support to delegates.

“There is a strong belief in the innocent victims constituency that the Victims Commission does not adequately represent or reflect their needs,” he said.

This is supported by the inclusion of convicted terrorists on a Victims Forum, he said, plus the commission’s firm support for the Stormont House Agreement “despite the huge reservations held by many”.

A further concern, he said, was “the general lack of public comment from her when victims are hurting badly. For example, after the conferring of a posthumous award upon the late Martin McGuinness for his ‘military service’.”

IVU is an umbrella association including 23 individual victims groups with a toal of 11,500 individual members.

The Victims Commission declined to offer any response.