Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson ‘should apologise for missing Stormont event’

The Northern Ireland victims’ commissioner has been urged to apologise after she failed to turn up at an event for survivors of terrorism at Stormont.

Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 5:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 6:30 am
Judith Thompson was not at Stormont because it coincided with another event, her office said

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, a former commissioner, described the event as “the most powerful in the Stormont calendar” as he suggested the current commissioner Judith Thompson should apologise for failing to attend.

The European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism event attracted around 300 delegates yesterday, including MLAs from the DUP, UUP, TUV, Alliance and SDLP.

Those in attendance heard powerful first-hand accounts directly from bombing and shooting victims.

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But Ms Thompson, whose job it is to represent victims, was not present.

Kenny Donaldson, from the South East Fermanagh Foundation victims’ group, said she was a “notable absentee”.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the commissioner’s office said it “coincided” with another event – namely the launch of a new report on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

But Mr Nesbitt, the former leader of the UUP, said the commission is “big enough to cover two events”.

“I think we need to hear from Judith Thompson and I would suggest we need an apology,” he added.

Mr Donaldson helped organise the event at Stormont.

“Whilst attended by upwards of 300 innocent victims and survivors of terrorism, it had a notable absentee – neither the victims’ commissioner, nor a representative from her office were present despite our understanding being that the commission received a formal invitation,” he said.

“Many innocent victims have today asked the question - why is the commission not advocating for them in the way that they perceive the commission to be advocating for those who allege state wrongdoing?”

Mr Nesbitt said: “That event has become, in my view, the most powerful in the Stormont calendar and it’s because of the power of the story-telling by victims and survivors.

“I am hearing that there was an unfortunate clash for the commission but the commission is big enough to cover two events at one time.

“The 2006 order which established the commission clearly sets out her statutory duties as being a champion for victims and survivors. She or a senior representative should have been there.”

The European Remembrance Day for Victims of Terrorism has been held on an annual basis since the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004 which took the lives of 193 EU citizens and injured thousands more.

TUV MLA Jim Allister organised the first Stormont event seven years ago.

Yesterday Mr Allister said: “There is no representation from the Victims Commission office. That speaks for itself.

“This is a victims’ commissioner who has lost the confidence of many in the victims’ sector, not least because when we hear from her more often than not it is about advocacy on behalf of those described as the victims of the state, who are a tiny minority of victims.”

A spokesperson for the commissioner’s office 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 spokesperson added: “The commission have and will consistently advocate on behalf of all victims and survivors.”