Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson says government has not been open about past

Posted By: April 21, 2016

 Enda McClafferty BBC News. Wednesday, April 20, 2016

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Media captionNorthern Ireland’s Victims Commissioner has said more than 200,000 people are suffering mental health problems because of the Troubles.
Northern Ireland’s victims commissioner has said the government, like others in Northern Ireland, have not been open about their activities in the past.

Judith Thompson also told a committee of MPs at Westminister that national security should not be used to hide uncomfortable facts.

Ms Thompson was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

She testified about the issues affecting victims of the Troubles.

She also addressed the efforts to secure a political agreement on how best to deal with the past.

‘Elephant in the corner’

One of the hurdles surrounds the government’s use of national security when it comes to deciding what information can be made public.

The victims commissioner described the controversy around national security as the “elephant in the corner” which needs to be addressed.

Troubles statistics

Ms Thompson told the committee that 500,000 people in Northern Ireland- equivalent to about one third of the population – have been affected by the Troubles

She said about 200,000 of those have mental health issues, while 40,000 have suffered injuries

The victims commissioner said that only 18,000 people have come forward for help

She was challenged by DUP MP Gavin Robinson about remarks she made in March about government hiding behind national security. Mr Robinson asked her whether she thought such language was helpful.

“Do you believe that government is using national security issues as a rock of convenience to hide uncomfortable truths?” Mr Robinson asked Ms Thompson.

Ms Thompson replied: “I believe that there has not yet been full openness and disclosure on anyone’s part about the past and yes government, as other players, would be part of that.”

However, she said she believed a way could be found to break the deadlock.

“It should be possible to find a mechanism that is seen as sufficiently impartial to determine if something is a matter for national security or personal safety and to do so without compromising the government’s right to be in control of that,” she said.

“That is the conversation which needs to be happening right now.

“One of the big issues for many on both parts of the community is a loss of trust in each other and in government.

“Re-establishing trust is essential and so therefore having an oversight mechanism which people can accept as being impartial so that national security and people’s safety can be preserved, but people know it’s not something anyone can use to hide uncomfortable facts.”

The commissioner said the package of measures for dealing with the past in the Stormont House Agreement should be implemented as soon as possible. But she warned that the financial resources may not be in place to fully implement the package.

It also emerged during Wednesday morning’s session that 30 UDR widows have lost their pensions after remarrying. Ms Thompson said this needed to addressed in the interest of equality.