Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 3 April 2001
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
The Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment (Dr Farren):
I beg to move
That the Second Stage of the Department for Learning and Employment Bill [NIA 12/00] be agreed.
Members will be aware that I have been considering changing the current title of this Department for some time. Its undue length has caused continual problems. I have become the Minister of Further Education, the Minister of Further and Higher Education, the Minister of Higher and Further Education, the Minister of Training, the Minister of Training and Employment and the Minister of Employment. I might enjoy being perceived as carrying all those different Ministries on my back, but, Members may agree that, regardless of the length of the Department’s title, its acronym is an unfortunate one. Therefore, after much thought, I have come to the view that the title ought to be the Department for Learning and Employment.
Several other options were considered, but we concluded that the option chosen neatly encapsulates the key themes of the Department, namely, lifelong learning and preparing people for employment. I assure Members that changing the Department’s title will have no significant cost implications for the Department or its customers. As no new regulations are proposed by the Bill, there will be no adverse impact on business; neither will the Bill have any impact on equal opportunities.
The Chairperson of the Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee (Dr Birnie):
The Committee was grateful to the Minister for consultation about this Bill at the pre-draft stage. In broad terms we welcome it, because, as the Minister has just said, the acronym often associated with the Department — DHFETE — has been unfortunate, given efforts to encourage people to enter into higher and further education and lifelong learning as a whole. By changing the Department’s name, we will remove at least one thing to which the diary column in the business supplement of the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ repeatedly refers.
There is a need for a new and shorter title, but it must cover the broad areas of the Department’s remit. We note that the Minister said that there would be no regulatory impact from the change and that the cost implications would be insignificant. At the next stage of the Bill’s passage, the Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee hopes to discover whether there are any cost implications. I say that partly because of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s 1999-2000 report, which detailed the Training and Employment Agency’s failure to follow proper purchasing procedures when it was developing a new corporate identity and promoting and re-imaging the New Deal and the jobcentres. The Public Accounts Committee will be pursuing the matter, and our Committee will watch its deliberations with interest.
The Committee welcomes the proposal.
The costs associated with the name change will be quite low. Given the strong possibility that the proposal will meet with Members’ approval, the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment has kept its stationery supplies to a minimum — just enough to cope with current business. The costs for stationery and signage, additional to ongoing costs, are not likely to be more than £10,000 to £15,000. Further details will be available at later stages of the Bill’s passage. I thank the Chairperson of the Committee for his support.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Second Stage of the Department for Learning and Employment Bill [NIA 12/00] be agreed.
The Junior Minister (Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister) (Mr Haughey):
I beg to move
That this Assembly welcomes the inclusion of a specific measure for victims in the European Peace II programme.
I welcome this chance to draw attention to the real opportunities that the Peace II funding provides for victims. It is significant that a specific measure has been developed to which only individual victims and victims’ groups will have access.
The funding package amounts to approximately £6·67 million, and it will provide significant additional resources to this important and often marginalised section of society. Peace II funding will allow important work to be taken forward in a range of areas but will concentrate on reskilling, retraining and re-employment, so that those who have often been excluded from education and employment opportunities will benefit most.
The Peace II funding should also be seen in the context of the overall funding package available for victims. The Victims Unit in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister allocated £420,000 in the past financial year to several projects and initiatives.
In the next few days my Colleague Minister Nesbitt and myself will meet our Northern Ireland Office counterpart, Mr Adam Ingram MP, to discuss the allocation of £9 million of funding recently announced by his Department. It is vital that we work with him on this issue and that funding is targeted in a meaningful way at the most important areas.
The £6·67 million provided for victims in the Peace II package is an important part of the total package of targeted funding and gives a clear indication of the Executive’s desire to tackle the issues in a proactive manner. I look forward to a positive discussion and debate on these matters, and I know that everyone present will welcome this very important step in addressing the needs of victims.
I welcome the announcement as a positive step towards recognising the needs of people hurt so badly by the troubles. The European Union has a vital role to play in this process not just in the short term but for many years to come. The needs of victims and their families cannot be resolved in the short term. It is a long and painful process that will continue many years after the majority of Assembly Members have gone. That has been the experience in other parts of the world where conflict caused suffering and hardship to many people, but the conflict cannot, and will not, continue.
The peace that we now enjoy has been inspired in many ways by the European experience dating back not just to the second world war but for many years beyond that. We all have some experience of the suffering endured over the years by people from all sections of the community. In a graveyard near my home there is an inscription on a tombstone which reads "An innocent victim of the troubles". People in the future will, without doubt, read that inscription and understand to a point. However, they can never really understand the suffering or the needs of the people who were affected. They will not know that family life for everyone in that house was turned upside down. Their lives, their careers and their plans for the future were shattered. Even today, they are struggling to rebuild what was destroyed a few years ago. Assistance to retrain and reskill is critical for this family and for many other families affected during the 30 years of the troubles.
Mr Haughey’s announcement today about funding is a recognition which will assist the needs of the victims in a very positive way. That was a promise made, and I am more than pleased that it has now been honoured. It is the first milestone on a long and torturous road for people. That road will have many corners and many hazards. I hope that in the future the European Peace II programme will continue to support those victims as they put their lives together again and face the future. The victims cannot be left behind. We have a duty as politicians to help them on their way. There is, as I have said, a notion that victims can be given a quick fix, a cheque in the post. Such notions are not only mistaken but also insulting to those who matter most — the victims.
Today there is a recognition that the process includes resources to retrain, reskill and rebuild lives. Let us hope that we can build on our experience to ensure that this support is used wisely and in consultation with those who need it, and those for whom it was intended. Above all, let us be aware that it is only a beginning. No one should be surprised if, in the distant future, politicians are still coping with the hurt caused during the troubles. The hurt has been great for all our people, and the healing process has to be inclusive. To address the problem in a selective or divisive way would only delay the whole process of reconciliation.
Today’s announcement is a very positive step. It is a recognition that people’s lives were turned upside down by the troubles and that there is now a caring Assembly which, with the support of European funding, is prepared to help those people to rebuild their lives and to assist them on the journey onwards. This is a historic day for the Assembly and an important day for the European Union as a whole. I particularly welcome the announcement.
I have an interest — like many in the Chamber — in this subject because not only had I a relative murdered by terrorists but I saw at first hand the difficulty that real victims have in getting financial help following their loss. In February, the Assembly was told by the First Minister, Mr Trimble, that, under the Peace II programme, victims of violence and ex-prisoners will be regarded as target groups for assistance. The EU programme will also include a specific measure for victims, with funding of approximately £6·6 million. Our MEPs also need to be praised for the work and effort that they have put in to secure this money.
There is a very serious anomaly. Far too often victims and ex-prisoners are included together. There are far more ex-prisoners’ groups — which exist to milk this system — than there are victims’ groups. When we hear that millions of pounds will be available for this section as a whole, it does not necessarily mean that the victims will get the lion’s share of the money. Several months ago a question was put by Mr Dodds to the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Mr Durkan, about £6 million being allocated to ex-prisoners’ groups. Some £4·5 million of that came from the EU peace money and £1·5 million came from the Government.
There is a genuine need to ensure that the real victims receive money. That is evident when we see the ability of numerous groups to apply for, or claim, money on spurious grounds. For example, huge sums of money have been paid out by the Ministry of Defence for alleged injury, for the death of animals, or for the loss of, or damage to, silage in the border areas due to helicopter activity. Money has been squandered throughout the whole system. The money must now be very much focused on the innocent victims. The vast numbers of fraudulent claims serve to confirm that there is an indisputable danger of giving taxpayers’ money to fraudsters. We see that also in the huge sums that were paid to the Ex-Prisoners Interpretive Centre (EPIC) — an organisation funded to deal with ex-prisoners.
These points all raise crucial questions. How many of those groups that have sprung up over the last decade, claiming to deal with all kinds of people related to the troubles, are legitimate? I refer Members to one group in the Maze Prison which received money for a fly-fishing course. It is not rocket science to realise that all too often there are scams of one sort or another being carried out. Undoubtedly, Republicans will moan that we are claiming there to be, and creating, a hierarchy of suffering. One thing is clear: the grief of those whose relatives were brutally murdered by terrorists is not the same as that of those who cry over terrorists who were killed. If the latter have any grief, it ought to be only for those whom their terrorist friends killed.
I wrote numerous letters on the subject to the Minister then responsible for victims’ issues, Mr Adam Ingram. I have also put many questions to the two junior Ministers, who are present today. One of the things that stand out from raising the issue with Mr Ingram is the uncertainty of funding for the victims year after year. By contrast, there is no shortage of money for those who created the victims in the first place. That too is a source of anguish among victims’ support groups.
Another issue must be addressed, and I trust that the junior Ministers will take it on board today. It is that of the widows of UDR and RIR personnel, who have been overlooked in all of this. It is imperative that they be included as well. We welcome the additional money that was provided for the RUC widows. People whose loved ones were murdered because they were members of the UDR or RIR were very concerned at being treated differently. There should be equal recognition for all those in the security forces. We trust that UDR and RIR widows will be highlighted under this programme.
The notion that you can treat the victims and perpetrators of violence equally concerns me. That philosophy underlies much of the money that is being distributed under the peace and reconciliation fund. It is a clear signal of moral bankruptcy. It is my contention that there is no equivalence between them.
I am also concerned that because we have Sinn Féin/IRA sitting in government their influence will extend to ensuring that their own political clique gets more recognition than the real victims. Even though they jump up and down proclaiming how much they care about victims, the reality is that, under their ideology, even terrorists are victims. This aims to overthrow all right thinking. It is the old idea of calling evil good.
There is a very real concern that money earmarked for victims should go to the real victims. It should not go to people whom political correctness deems appropriate.
I trust that we will get assurances from the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the junior Ministers that innocent victims will be catered for and that they will receive the funding they need and deserve. We are all aware of the suffering and anguish that has been caused over the past 30 years or more by the loss of loved ones who have been tragically and evilly taken away. I also trust we can be assured that innocent victims will not be provided for under the same banner as ex-prisoners’ groups.
It is a matter of great concern. We have raised it in the past and will continue to raise it. I trust that the junior Ministers will take up with the relevant Ministers the points that I have raised today, for it is not only a matter of funding for the victims. Many times we have heard that it is not just a matter of money: it is also a matter of justice.
There have been many murders in the area I represent — South Armagh — and other border areas. When I raised the issue of an inquiry with the Security Minister, Mr Adam Ingram, he replied to me on 13 March 2001 saying that an inquiry would be counterproductive and would jeopardise the investigations. As I said earlier, this is not just about funding; it is also about justice. Mr Ingram went on to say that the perpetrators of all unsolved murders in Northern Ireland should be brought to justice. I find it very sad that the perpetrators are being funded by the Government and by the Assembly. All these points need to be taken on board. Not only does funding need to be provided but justice needs to be seen to be done in this country.
Mrs E Bell:
It will come as no surprise to anyone in the Assembly that I welcome the motion. I have worked with victims for the last 20 or 30 years and I know that this will be an encouragement to them.
Soon after the ceasefires were announced in 1994 I talked to several women from all parts of the community who had lost relatives through violent deaths. They hoped that the acknowledgement of their loss and the trauma of their experiences, and those of the many like them, would now be made in an open and appropriate manner.
Some years on, after the Good Friday Agreement and the referendum, I spoke to the same people again and they made exactly the same point. However, they made it in a much more cynical way. I have worked with groups, organisations and individuals who have been concerned by the apparent inaction and total disinterest in their plight and the plight of all those who were affected by the troubles.
I am sure that people have heard the word "acknowledgement" many times. These women have been concerned about that, as opposed to the high profile they have seen given regularly to prisoners, for whatever justifiable reasons.
The Victims Liaison Unit has done a very good job in encouraging and bringing together organisations and groups that work with victims and for victims. The Bloomfield Report highlighted the problems faced by victims. Many publications about the troubles and their victims recount horrific stories. All victims display admirable tolerance. However, there are always comments on the lack of acknowledgement and often the lack of interest from politicians and the public for victims. While compiling his report, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield spoke of the great sympathy he felt for the victims whose stories he was told and of his admiration for how those people had reacted and coped with the horrific events in their lives.
The Victims Liaison Unit was set up to implement the recommendations made in the Bloomfield Report ‘We Will Remember Them’. The unit has done a great deal of good in bringing victims groups and individuals together, assessing needs and developing the Government’s policy towards victims and survivors. It also set up Touchstone, the umbrella group for victims’ organisations. The unit runs seminars and conferences with the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust to highlight and discuss situations in these most sensitive areas. It also funds projects, including the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, which provide bursaries to dependants. This work must be carried on, as I am sure it will be by the Victims Unit with assistance from the Victims Liaison Unit
The recently established Victims Unit, which is in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, is working with the Victims Liaison Unit to improve the situation of those most recently affected by the troubles in a practical way. I believe that Mr McGrady said that the Victims Unit is committed to improving services to victims by 2002.
Peace II moneys will undoubtedly play a significant part in meeting this challenge, and it is fitting that the European Union continues to play a direct supporting role in this area of regeneration.
It is essential that the standards of provision be assessed and that financial assistance be allocated where it is most needed. I hope that the Victims Unit and the Victims Liaison Unit will do that. The £420,000 announced by the junior Ministers last week was welcome, and the promise of another £9 million will go some way towards addressing the needs of victims and their organisations with basic measures such as counselling, befriending, retraining and community unemployment projects.
There has been talk of a hierarchy of victims. In fact, there has been talk this morning of "innocent" victims, and I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means. Regardless of the definitions given by others we should not allow the needs and hopes of those who have already been disadvantaged by acts of terror and sectarianism to be curtailed by manipulation. The Bloomfield Report said that victims are those people — men, women and children — directly affected by the troubles. It is not for us to determine degrees of victims or to monopolise victims. We should never let victims become pawns in a political game — as many of them fear they are.
The Assembly should pledge itself to ensuring that all victims are treated with trust and care and are given practical, relevant help to achieve their aims and to take advantage of every opportunity. Victims should have easy access to information on finance, counselling, medical help and other support as necessary. It may well be that a victims’ minister will have to be appointed, but at the moment we need to look to the junior Ministers, who have been tasked with this responsibility. I know they are committed to victims, and the Committee of the Centre will work with them.
Peace II money and other measures will contribute to an open acknowledgement of the price victims have paid. It will provide the Government and other involved bodies with the finance to allow the furtherance of such projects that will help victims enjoy full citizenship in the new Northern Ireland that we all hope for and are working towards. We must address the legacy of the conflict. We must do it for all victims and we must do it together.
I welcome the fact that financial assistance will be given to the innocent victims of terrorism, but there are several points that need to be clarified regarding the claim that there are specific measures for victims in the European Peace II programme. There is no specific definition of "victim" in the programme. The term is used to mean many things to many people. Mrs Bell made light of the term "innocent victim". However, it is essential that a distinction be made between innocent victims of terrorism and those who were clearly involved in terrorist acts, who, regrettably are also described by many as victims.
It is morally wrong and an insult to the many innocent victims when they are referred to by some in authority in the same manner as those who committed the very heinous acts against them and their families. The needs of innocent victims should be addressed, and not simply in monetary terms as some Members appear to believe.
The First Minister, in an article in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ at the weekend, claimed that they had been attempting to address the needs of the bereaved and injured. That is an insult to the many innocent victims.
The First Minister and other pro-Agreement Members have caused untold hurt to the innocent victims of terrorism by endorsing the release of prisoners who are guilty of the most heinous of crimes and supporting an amnesty for those convicted of terrorist acts. The First Minister has also supported their elevation into the very heart of the Government.
For the First Minister and others to refer in their recent publication to a one-stop shop for victims is insensitive and indeed an insult. The attitude that innocent victims can be bought off with a monetary payment is adding insult to injury. The First Minister’s claim that he is championing a public inquiry into IRA/Garda collusion rings hollow, considering his support for the early release of terrorist prisoners and an amnesty for convicted terrorists. In the words of Mrs Sylvia Callaghan, whose son was murdered in the Ballykelly bombing,
"Any deal that benefits terrorists by putting them in positions of authority in our land is an insult to the memory of my son, murdered by the people the authorities are now falling over themselves to placate."
The most important step that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister could take to ease the pain of the innocent victims is to endorse the exclusion of Sinn Féin/IRA from government. It would also be a positive gesture to the victims if the First Minister were to donate his Nobel Peace Prize money to the innocent victims rather than retain it for himself. I call on him today in this Chamber to do so without further delay.
The innocent victims in the Unionist community have little confidence in the administration of EU funding by the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust (NIVT). Payments to terrorist prisoners between 1995 and 1999 under the European Union Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation amounted to more than £6 million. Under the Peace II programme, £6·7 million has been given out for victims, and £6 million was also given for prisoners under Peace I. How much will be given to prisoners under the Peace II programme?
The grants in the Peace I programme were used to provide education and training, resource centres, minibuses for prison visits — including training of drivers to gain their HGV licences — guitar and yoga lessons. This was all for prisoners in the Maze prison; a computer was also provided for female prisoners in Maghaberry prison. This is disgraceful; the funding would have been better spent on the innocent victims of terrorist violence who have suffered throughout the last 30 years.
To compound the hurt even further, NIVT — in my view, a completely discredited body —which administers this European funding, recently authorised the paltry sum of £2,000 for the families acting for innocent relatives. This is one of the largest victims groups in Northern Ireland, made up of several hundred RUC, UDR and RIR widows.
It is disgraceful that terrorist prisoners are receiving such large amounts, yet innocent victims receive very little or, in some cases, nothing at all. NIVT is a discredited body in the Unionist community, and, as a priority, I am calling for an independent report to be compiled into its administration and allocation of grants under the Peace I programme. No further funding should be given to prisoners, ex-prisoners or their families; the resources that are available under the Peace II programme should instead be channelled towards the real victims of terror and their victim groups, together with the many innocent victims who are not members of any victim groups and have had to endure agony, often in silence, with little or no support.
In closing, I want to highlight the poor attendance in the Chamber today. There are fewer than 30 Members out of 108 to discuss the important and essential issue of victims.
In supporting this motion, I welcome the announcement that has been made. I also put on record our thanks to our MEPs, our Government and those responsible for making this funding available under Peace II. It is rather ironic that some of our victims’ groups got very little money under Peace I. I listened with interest to Mr Boyd when he hinted — and it does beg the question — that those administering the funds then were working to their own political agenda. Certainly, the victims did not get their fair share of funding. Mr Boyd referred to Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), and I understand that that group, together with Victims of Injustice Campaigning for Equality (VOICE) and Homes United by Ruthless Terror (HURT), travelled to Brussels in April 2000, where they lobbied successfully to ensure that there would be a line in the budget earmarked for victims of terrorist violence. Those — indeed, all — victims’ groups need to be treated as a priority.
To ensure that this is not lost in the debate, I want to say that the peace dividend needs to get down to the victims as quickly as possible. This has not yet happened. Core posts are needed in the sector, and they are essential if the excellent support work for victims is to continue and develop. We know that the work of the victims’ groups is expanding at an exceptional rate, and support is needed quickly.
Mr Boyd touched on discrimination. In the past, those groups which include members of the security forces have found that they have been discriminated against. We need guarantees that that will not happen. This needs to be made abundantly clear in relation to any funding from Peace II. Guarantees are also needed that groups with a proven track record of excellent work will be given all the resources they need to do the work that no one else is doing. They must be able to demonstrate good management practice, good value for money and good care for their members and staff. They must be treated as priority groups in the sector in future.
I agree with Mr Berry about the measures that need to be taken for the UDR and RIR widows. I hope that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will address that matter. I hope that an anomaly will also be addressed. Past members of the RUC who left the force perhaps a few weeks before they were murdered are not included in arrangements for the RUC. I urge that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister address that matter.
This can be nothing other than a difficult subject to deal with. If not every group of victims is named, I suppose some are being left out and others elevated. When the blood runs in the street, as the brain is splattered against the wall, the blood does not know the victim’s religion or political affiliation, or even his age. Our society, however, does not have one hierarchy of victims about which we hear, but a series of such hierarchies. Each group, each faction, elevates its victims or perceived victims above the victims or perceived victims of others.
I do not know whether this is any consolation at all to the widows, the widowers, the children or the parents. People who never knew the husbands, wives, sons or daughters have a bitterness and a hatred for them, and in death — even in death — a sense of detestation continues as if those people had been known intimately. It brings to mind the sense of communal pain felt in society, that sense felt by the diaspora. That communal pain is more evident when it is realised that those furthest away from the war are very often those who want the war to be fought most of all.
Recently I had a conversation with some victims. I asked them what I might do. Their reply was "Do not do anything for me publicly. If you have anything to do for me, it will be with the statutory agencies, which can affect my life in practical ways. If you espouse my cause publicly, I will not be sure whether you are doing it because of the value you place on me or because of the value you place on being heard by an electorate that might feel that you are fighting a good battle for them."
The nature of a divided society is that you cannot fight a good battle for someone without also fighting a good battle against someone. In a way we are all victims. The children, who came into this society with absolute innocence, were imbued with a traditional attitude from wherever they came, and that probably ensured that, in their separate ways, they found their paths to the jails and to the graveyards.
Something happened to us. Rather than play the game of supremacy that both sides play — especially with victims — would we not be better asking "What happened to us?" We stood the victims and their relatives side by side to make a line that forms the milestones to show us how far we had to come and how awful we had become before we began to make changes in this society. They also became the bulwarks against our capacity to revert back to what we once were.
Nothing is perfect. For those of us who have the luxury, there is an opportunity for life to be wonderful. Unfortunately, there are those on all sides whose lives will never be wonderful again. The sense of loss, with no intimate touches, no sharing of thoughts, no arguments, no smiles: that is a human experience. Whether you are Protestant or Catholic, Nationalist or Unionist, Loyalist or Republican, there can be no denying that we are all human beings who need to start pulling a curtain down on the past.
We will not forget where we have been, or what we have done, but perhaps as we move away from the brutality and the awfulness of the past, we will find a way to expurgate our guilt and our grief. We might be able to confront what happened to us: why we did the things we did; why we had the simplicity we had; why we lived with the ghosts, the myths and the shibboleths that allowed us to take life. Never mind venerating victims — it allowed us to take life.
Our choices are clear. Either we offer people succour and comfort in their time of need, or we are a failed society. Leave any one of them out and we wound ourselves. There are victims’ groups, and I am certain that they take great comfort from their fellowship, but there are individuals — ordinary people — suffering behind closed doors. Rather than simply going on a rant of my personal opinions, let me try and do something practical. It is vital that those with authority are proactive in helping victims. It will be easy to identify the victims’ groups but much harder to identify the individual sufferers, those who do not want that fellowship, those who do not want to be used as pawns in a political game, those who prefer to live isolated lives.
What are we doing that is proactive for those individuals? Are we rapping on the doors to offer them society’s help or are we waiting until they come to the door with a begging bowl? When we talk about the Peace II initiatives, I would like to know what we are going to do. I advocate that the two junior Ministers take back to their respective leaders the importance of being proactive and say that any single, unrecognised victim diminishes this society.
We welcome the motion. However, I am a little confused, if not somewhat bemused, as to the reason for its being before us. If it is about creating greater awareness of what is on offer for those who have suffered throughout the many years of troubles, it is certainly extremely valuable. As Mr Ervine said, we need to be extremely proactive about letting people know what is available and what can be done to help victims. It is vital that we ensure that there is greater awareness of this subject.
However, if the purpose of this motion is to enable us to take credit, it is of no value. Taking credit or praising oneself for doing something which people in authority should have been doing for many, many years is not something that I welcome. However, I will give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that the reason we are discussing this today is that victims, victims’ groups, people who have suffered and people who, as Mr Ervine said, suffer "behind closed doors" and do not know how to come forward will now know that this help is available to them and that they must come forward. We would definitely like to be much more specific about exactly what is available. We do need to go out to let victims know what is available to them.
I want to dwell for a moment on a history lesson. As head of the European Commission office in 1994, I was involved in setting up the first peace programme. In the negotiations with Brussels on Peace I, the needs of victims were very much on the table and were being discussed by civil servants and fonctionnaires in Brussels and here. Pushed by Europe, there was support for victims and victims’ groups under Peace I, though, without any doubt, there was not nearly enough. Our hope must be that in Peace II much more is made available in this specific measure for victims.
I also remind Members that when the first draft of the Peace II programme was issued well over a year ago, several Assembly Members were at the presentation in the Long Gallery. I think that it was Adam Ingram and his staff who made the presentation. It should be on record somewhere that when the first draft of Peace II was issued, there was not even a mention of victims in it.
I remember several of us raising our hands to arrest the proceedings and query what the peace and reconciliation programme was all about. There seemed to be an incredible steer towards those projects that focused on the economic needs of Northern Ireland. I also stated that it would be difficult to stamp a dove of peace on Peace II, because there was not nearly enough work being done on reconciliation and getting communities together. I am very glad to see that there has been a turnaround and that as a result of consultation and pressure the original draft has become a source of measures which we can welcome in today’s motion.
However, I want us to go further than that. I would also like to welcome specific measures for integrated education, for greater cross-border co-operation and for more cross-community work. Peace II needs to achieve these goals also and we should bring these issues to the Floor of the House.
There is no doubt that we welcome the specific measures for victims included in the European Peace II programme. We thank the European Union for providing us with the finance to enable us to do this. Once the European moneys run out, let us hope that the Government will undertake to continue support measures for the victims of the troubles by mainstreaming this funding. Let us not simply clap ourselves on the back in congratulations for our good works. We are not doing enough. Much more needs to be done on a long-term basis.
Mr A Maginness:
As I listen to this debate I have a sense of déjà vu. The old arguments much beloved of the DUP about "innocent" and "real" victims are being remoulded and recycled. I had hoped that the DUP might strike a more positive note today.
Does the Member consider Slobadan Milosevic to be a victim?
Mr A Maginness:
I am not sure that that is relevant to the debate.
Allow me to develop my argument a little. I respect Mr Berry because he has a genuine interest in the concerns and needs of victims. However, I am disappointed by the rather begrudging, carping attitude that he brought to the debate today. Instead of welcoming this motion with enthusiasm, he criticised it and then indulged in the old argument about innocent victims, real victims and prisoners et cetera. Ex-prisoners help to re-establish themselves as citizens. I am not afraid to assert that publicly, because it is important that we assist these people.
That is a separate argument, and ex-prisoners have separate needs. A humane and caring society is one that says to ex-prisoners "You have offended. You paid a price. We will now help you to rehabilitate yourselves." This applies to people who were convicted of offences arising out of the troubles — scheduled offences — as much as to those who were convicted of "ordinary" crimes.
The prisoners’ argument is completely separate from the victims’ argument. Let us consider the centrality of victims. The Good Friday Agreement, which the DUP opposes and seeks to overturn, addresses the needs and suffering of victims. A section devoted to victims of violence says
"The participants believe that it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation."
That is an important statement.
Today, the Executive are addressing the needs of victims of the troubles. That is an important step which everyone in the House should welcome enthusiastically. Peace II gives us an opportunity to target specifically the needs of victims. David Ervine spoke very eloquently about the needs of victims and pointed out that it is not only victims’ groups that we need to help but also individual victims, especially those who are hidden away and who feel so isolated and so marginalised that they may have given up hope. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will target victims individually and through organisations. The important strategy on which the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is working, on which all Members will be consulted, will establish a comprehensive programme for addressing the needs of victims.
Let me return to the Good Friday Agreement, which says that it is essential not only to "address" but also to "acknowledge" the suffering of victims.
Will the Member acknowledge that when he and his party, and many others, agreed to the Good Friday Agreement — if one can call it that — many victims were sorely annoyed and distressed when they saw that the perpetrators of violence were going to be released early on to the streets and the victims shunned? Basically, those victims were told "We care more for the prisoners than we care for the victims."
Mr A Maginness:
Yes, some people were mightily distressed by the early release of prisoners, and some were not.