Victims’ Commissioner will not be ‘a puppet’

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NORTHERN Ireland’s new Victims’ Commissioner has insisted she will not be a political puppet.

Kathryn Stone, who was appointed as part of a shake-up of the victims sector, said she has the authority to challenge the Stormont Government.

Ms Stone said: “I am very clear that where I see that improvements need to be made or challenges need to be presented, because I have no political baggage, I have no political affiliation, I am absolutely confident that I will do that.

“I am absolutely confident to present challenges to ministers (and) to Government. I also expect to be held to account by them, and not just by them but more importantly by the large numbers of victims and survivors there are.”

Ms Stone, who was awarded an OBE in 2007, is a former chief executive of Voice UK, a national learning disability charity which promotes justice and well being for vulnerable victims.

She was appointed by the Office of First and Deputy First Ministers in September to replace four previous Northern Ireland victims’ commissioners. At the same time, a new advisory forum made up of people whose lives have been blighted by Troubles was established.

Ms Stone, who was also a member of the Home Office Victims’ Advisory Panel from 2006-10, said she would adhere to current legislation which defines a victim as someone who has been bereaved, injured or is a carer as a result of the 40-year conflict.

“The role of the commission is to provide advice to the ministers,” she added. “But, where the commission has evidence that is able to put together those cogent arguments with full support of the all the communities and the representatives of victims’ groups, then ministers will listen to that. I am confident they will listen to that.”

Ms Stone would not say whether she believed the perpetrators of violence should be treated as victims, but said all victims’ voices would be heard.

“There is a very real argument that everyone who has lived through the Troubles is a victim. I don’t come down on either side. I come down on the side of individual victims. My job is to serve them, to advocate for them, to be a voice for victims and that is what I am going to do. I do not consider my job to be a fudge, I consider my job to be hugely important and a very real privilege.”

Ms Stone also pledged to do more to help people mentally scarred by the Troubles.