Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 17:51 UK

Row brewing over NI victims' bill

Four victims' commissioners have already been appointed
Four victims' commissioners have already been appointed

A major row is brewing between Sinn Fein and the other Executive parties over the possible appointment of a chief victims commissioner.

It led to the withdrawal of the consideration stage of the Victims Bill which was to be debated on Tuesday.

The bill is necessary because of the decision to appoint four victims commissioners rather than one.

It had been given an accelerated passage so that it would become law very quickly.

But DUP junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson told the Assembly on Tuesday that it would not now be moved.

No reason was given but it is understood Sinn Fein are unhappy with a series of proposed amendments which would allow for the appointment of a chief commissioner.

The party's Francie Molloy said: "We had agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein as far as moving forward legislation with the accelerated passage.

"That agreement was reached before Christmas on the lines that we would have equality of commissioners - there can be no hierarchy of victims and no hierarchy of commissioners."

However, the DUP's Sammy Wilson said: "The only thing that strikes me is that Sinn Fein maybe do want to have a commission where they have got control over one member who then can veto everyone else.

"I've got to say I don't think any fair-minded person would say that that is a reasonable way forward."

Mr Donaldson said the bill would be discussed at the business committee.

One of the commissioners, Mike Nesbitt, said that it was important the legislation was right.

"They are simply taking the long view and trying to make sure this legislation will not need amended a second time, the way this legislation does," he said.

Stalled

What will happen next is unclear, but unless a solution is found the bill seems unlikely to become law as quickly as the parties would have liked.

In January, details of Northern Ireland's victims' commissioners were revealed.

The four commissioners include broadcaster Mike Nesbitt and ex-interim victims' commissioner Bertha McDougall.

The others are Patricia MacBride, whose brother was killed by the SAS and whose father died 17 months after being shot by loyalists, and Brendan McAllister of Mediation NI.

All four posts are full-time and receive the full advertised salary of 65,000.

The post is intended to promote the interests of victims of the Troubles.




SEE ALSO
Victims' bill on way at Stormont
06 Mar 08 |  Northern Ireland
'Trust' issue over victims' role
27 Jan 08 |  Northern Ireland
What defines a victim in NI?
26 Oct 05 |  Northern Ireland

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