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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Victims' commissioner appointed
Bertha McDougall
Bertha McDougall's RUC Reservist husband killed by INLA
The widow of a murdered RUC reservist has been appointed as Northern Ireland's new victims' commissioner.

Bertha McDougall's husband, Lindsay, was killed by the INLA in 1981. An ex-primary school teacher, she set up the victims' group, Forgotten Families.

The DUP has welcomed the interim appointment, but Sinn Fein said it had concerns about her independence.

Mrs McDougall insisted she would "have an independent voice" and approach all her work "with an open mind".

She told a news conference she would be offering an "open door" to anyone who wanted to make representations to her.

"I will be wanting to ensure that everyone is treated in a fair and equitable manner," she added.

Mrs McDougall will be responsible for establishing a new forum for victims of the Troubles.

The appointment was announced by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain on Monday.

"Her experience in working with victims and victims' support groups will be vital in helping to address the needs of those who have suffered great personal loss," he said.

Peter Hain
Mrs McDougall's appointment was announced by Peter Hain

"The government believes that the needs of those who have suffered so much over the years must get greater recognition. They must not become the forgotten people.

"Substantial resources have already been provided to individual victims and the self help groups on which many rely for help but I feel that more needs to be done to recognise all the pain and hurt."

Mr Hain also said legislation to establish a commissioner on a longer term basis would be introduced.

"It will take time for this to be put in place and brought into operation," he said.

If government is serious about parity of esteem for all victims, then it should not be consulting with or seeking the approval of one political party only for an appointment
Patricia Lewsley
SDLP
"In the meantime, I am determined to ensure that essential work which will recognise the needs of victims and survivors is put in hand as soon as possible."

The commissioner will look at key areas relating to services for victims, funding arrangements in relation to services and grants paid to victims and survivors groups and individual victims and survivors.

Sinn Fein assembly member Philip McGuigan said his party was not satisfied about the extent of Mrs McDougall's independence.

He said the commissioner needed to have the support of all communities, but must not "reinforce the existing hierarchy of victims".

"We need all victims, including victims of state violence, to be treated in an equal manner," he added.

SDLP assembly member Patricia Lewsley said her party had called for a victims' forum to represent diverse concerns, rather than a single commissioner.

"If government is serious about parity of esteem for all victims, then it should not be consulting with or seeking the approval of one political party only for an appointment," she said.

Support

Anne Boal from the Disabled Police Officers' Association said she hoped Mrs McDougall would get support from both sides of the community.

"I would hope that people will meet her and then judge whether she will do a good job or not.

"I find that all this talk... about parties about one side got the equality commission and now another side is getting the victims' commission, I think it is doing a great disservice to victims," she said.

"The main focus should be on the appointment of a victims' commissioner and what she can do for victims, regardless of who supported her to begin with."

Mairead Kelly's brother was killed by the SAS at Loughgall in 1987. She formed the Loughgall Truth and Justice campaign after the initial inquest into the men's deaths.

Ms Kelly said she was at first concerned about the appointment.

"I was very worried because she has been a victim herself from one side of the conflict that she may not be impartial and independent enough for all groups," she said.

'Fair chance'

"I can't really judge the lady herself because I don't know her, but I would really want to judge her on how she treats people who have lost relatives in the same circumstances as myself."

She said everyone had to be given a fair chance and people should not be pre-judged.

The DUP regard the appointment as one of a number of confidence-building measures for unionists.

The position of victims' commissioner was announced by Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy in a written statement to the House of Commons in March.

Mr Murphy said the commissioner would play a "pivotal role" in promoting the interests of those who had suffered.


SEE ALSO:
Victims' commissioner post set up
01 Mar 05 |  Northern Ireland
Support for victims' commissioner
23 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Seeking refuge from the Troubles
20 May 05 |  Northern Ireland


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