“Epidemic of emotional turmoil in Northern Ireland” Victims Commissioner’s message for Haass

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Kathryn Stone

Kathryn Stone

 

My tenure as Commissioner for Victims and Survivors began on 24 September 2012.  It has been an extraordinary year and to say it has been challenging would be an understatement.

I left England and Northern Ireland is now my home.  I have got used to a whole new way of day to day living, a new way of speaking – or rather understanding different accents.  And a new way of working.  What has remained unchanged is my passionate commitment to the needs of victims and survivors in this society.  It is from them I have learned most.

I have heard their bitterness, their anger, their regret.  I have heard their optimism, their hope and their refusal to give up.  I have learned that they sacrificed most, suffered most and have much to give to the “better and shared future”.  I understand that people have, quite reasonably, very different views of the world.  And that their hopes for the future are informed by this perspective.

The role of Victims Commissioner is a challenging one.  Knowing that whatever you do or say has the potential to cause unintended offence is a daily challenge.  I must reflect the views of victims and survivors, ALL victims and survivors.

Victims and survivors are not one homogenous group, they do not speak with one voice and so I must, equally and fairly represent them all.  I think I have done this.  On the Civil Service (Special Advisors) Bill, we asked our Forum for their views.  Some were entirely against the Bill. Others were for it.  Similarly, with the Maze Long Kesh development, some were for the development of a peace building and conflict resolution centre at the site.  Others were totally opposed to it.

I am often asked for my personal opinion on a range of things, including the definition of a victim.  I am not acting in a personal capacity.  I am acting in a professional capacity.  I must do what the law tells me to do, however difficult or challenging that might be for some.  It has been suggested that I should refuse to accept the definition of victim as some believe it to be “a bad law”.  It is for politicians to debate the law, it is for me and for all of us to act within it.

What has been achieved in a year?  I think a lot has been achieved.   I have completed 54 visits to victims groups,and  had many meetings with families and individuals.  I have held a large number of events, seminars and attended services and memorials.  Advice to Ministers has been submitted on the current Assessment Process and a Pension for those Seriously Injured in the Troubles.  I have met with Lord Freud to discuss Welfare Reform and along with the Forum, met with the First and deputy First Ministers to advise them on Services, Dealing with the Past and Building for the Future.

A year ago I stood up to introduce myself to the Victims Forum and ended my introduction with a quote which informs my life:

“Cowardice makes us do what is safe

Vanity makes us do what is popular

Expediency makes us do what is politic

Conscience makes us do what is right.”

The past year has taught me that doing the right thing is often the most difficult thing. Victims and survivors in this society demand our very best efforts.  They expect nothing more and deserve nothing less.

I will be meeting with Dr.Haass soon and I will tell him about my role.   I will tell him what victims have told me about what they want from his talks and tell him that there is an epidemic of emotional turmoil in Northern Ireland.  Unless and until this is properly addressed, the continued suffering of victims and survivors will be a scar on the conscience of this society.


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About Author

Kathryn Stone, OBE, was appointed as the new Commissioner for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland on 24 September 2012. Prior to taking up her post with the Commission, Kathryn was the Chief Executive of VOICE UK, a national learning disability charity, promoting justice and well being for vulnerable victims as well as supporting their parents and carers. Kathryn was also the Principal Inspector for Milton Keynes Council and Head of Inspection for the London Boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Barking & Dagenham, responsible for the regulation of residential, nursing and day care. She also worked as an independent inspector for eight local authorities across the UK. For the past 11 years Kathryn has been involved with the Registered Intermediary Scheme sitting on the Quality Assurance Board and the Registration Board. She has also been a member of the Home Office Victims Advisory Panel (2006-2010) and a member of Derbyshire police’s independent advisory group since 2009, and chair of this group since March 2012. Kathryn was awarded an OBE in 2007 for her services to people with learning disabilities and was made a Chartered Director by the Institute of Directors in 2008 and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors in 2009.

2 Comments

  1. Kathryn – This morning with Eamonn I listened to singer/songwriter Joby Fox perform the re-worked version of ‘Belfast’ in which he describes the heaven and hell of this place – his words telling the story of a city of contradictions.
    The original dates back decades, but he wanted to add a more optimistic and hopeful verse.
    It includes the words “we have come a long way together…hold my hand so we both can be free from the Troubles and the darkness”.
    The people you represent need no reminders of how dark this place was, and I have heard many of them speak of their hopes for today and tomorrow.
    Those who have been hurt the most have made a huge contribution to the peace, but you are right: “Until properly addressed, the continued suffering of victims and survivors will be a scar on the conscience of this society.”
    Haass and O’Sullivan will listen to you and them – and they should be heard above the political play that wants the past to be another battlefield; another place of winners and losers.
    Google Joby Fox and find his song. He described it this morning as a kind of “unofficial anthem”.
    I think many will agree with his choice of words.

  2. As a member of the Victims and Survivors’ Forum I have had the pleasure and experience of working with Kathryn Stone as the Victims’ Commissioner throughout her first year in office.

    Kathryn Stone in her role as Victims Commissioner has brought a renewed focus and dedication to the role of serving the needs of all victims. This work builds on the groundwork of past Commissioners – Patricia McBride, Bertha McDougall and Brendan McAllister with whom I also had the pleasure of working with on the Victims Forum.

    Kathryn as the sole Commissioner has however shaped the office in a way that only a single Commissioner could do – and in doing so she has brought her own personality to the office of Victims’ Commissioner. She has brought a dedication, imagination and tenacity to work for all – and advocate for – all victims of the conflict. This is evidenced in advice provided to Ministers’, Welfare Reform and Assessment Processes. Indeed this is also evident in the confidence and maturity in the work of the Victims Forum – which I am proud to be involved in!

    In all my engagements I have found Kathryn to be genuinely and 100% committed to putting the needs of all victims – and those seriously injured in our conflict – at the core of her work and that of our political institutions. In so doing she is seeking to place the needs of all victims at the core of the public policy agenda. Not in a way that is about petty politicking around political word play but to genuinely shape a victim centred response to the needs of all victims. That must be acknowledged for it is not an easy task!

    While there may never be agreement on how we engage or address the toxic question of the past it is reassuring that we have an agreed OFMDFM appointed Victims Commissioner whose single focus is to reflect, represent and advocate on behalf of all victims irrespective of their community background. The needs of victims – and the memories of all deceased – are too serious and emotive for politicking.

    Kathryn has positioned the office at the centre of the debate on how victims voices should be heard as this society engages with our violent past.

    I look forward to Kathryn Stones second year in office as she further strives as an advocate for all victims.

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