A painful privilege

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Commissioner for Victims and Survivors Kathryn Stone explains how the Commission gives a voice to victims and survivors.

Kathryn Stone was appointed as sole Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in September 2012. Since then she has visited hundreds of individuals and groups from all over Northern Ireland, hearing their stories and endeavouring to make their voices heard.

“Just before I was appointed Commissioner I found a comment by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield who described the role as a ‘painful privilege’,” she says.

“If you look at the past through the eyes of victims and survivors you realise it is a very difficult place to get to and an even more difficult place to leave. These inherent difficulties are possibly why some people have said victims should move on, or put it all behind them.

“My response to that attitude is straightforward. We must never forget and we must never try to put it all behind us.

“For victims and survivors, the past is something they deal with every day. The past is now.”

The Commission has a clear remit: to represent the interests of victims and survivors and advise Government and service providers on the needs of victims and survivors.

“We carry out research essential to the capturing of victims’ experiences and we review the delivery of services on behalf of the sector.”

The Executive’s Strategy for Victims and Survivors was launched in 2009 and its commitments cover the period up to 2019.

“We are sponsored by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but operate separately from the Department’s Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) which assesses the individual needs of victims and survivors and develops a package of care and support to meet those needs.

“The difficult task, as the VSS put funding and provision of services in place, is to constantly review performance against the experience of victims and survivors. We have to listen to concerns, learn from them and implement changes.

“One of the key roles of the Commission is to monitor the implementation of services, report concerns to the VSS and the Department and provide solutions to issues that arise.”

While the Commission has a small staff, they are highly experienced professionals whose skills reinforce working in partnership with the victims sector.

Kathryn Stone herself has many years’ professional experience in social care and with victims as Chief Executive of a major charity, Voice UK, and corporately is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Directors.

She has recently been joined by John Beggs as Secretary to the Commission, whose experience in organisational management and public funding puts the work of the Commission onto a new level.

According to John, both he and Kathryn have a deep commitment to governance, strategy and how to make an organisation deliver its strategy to achieve better outcomes for the people it serves.

“We’re clear that our focus is on victims and survivors as individuals. Everything we do focuses on: ‘How does this promote the needs and interests of victims and survivors?’”

A key element to achieving this is ensuring that the work of the Commission is informed by victims and survivors. A touchstone for the Commission is the insight provided by the Victims and Survivors Forum.

All 23 forum members are victims and generously give their time as volunteers.

“It is very important to us that we are able to deliver our advice and research with integrity. The Forum brings the consistent and invaluable lived experience of its members,” Kathryn Stone says.

“They work in three working groups covering how services are delivered; how we build for the future and how we deal with the past.

“The latter work is particularly relevant with the convening of the talks chaired by Richard Haass. With the benefit of advice from the Forum, we inform and advise OFMDFM which, in turn, delivers support through the VSS.

“It is essential that the real day to day needs of victims and survivors are properly met, and that the transition from the previous arrangements is managed in the best interests of victims and survivors.”

The Commission has worked with WAVE’s Seriously Injured Group and are at an advanced stage of developing proposals for a pension for those who were seriously injured during the Troubles.

“This has involved detailed research and consideration with victims, some of whom were very seriously injured and have had their life chances fundamentally curtailed as a consequence of what happened to them,” the Commissioner revealed.

“We’ve been very pleased with what we’ve been able to achieve and are about to present our advice to Ministers. A pension would be a very positive and tangible result for people in that situation.

“We have to acknowledge that there is an epidemic of emotional turmoil in Northern Ireland. Many organisations are working very hard and very professionally to support people’s mental health needs but significantly more resources are needed.

“As a society, Northern Ireland needs to acknowledge the seriousness of our past and the consequences it has for our future. While there is a sense that Northern Ireland should move on, many people have been left behind in suffering and despair about what happened to their loved one without recourse to justice.

“‘Truth, justice and acknowledgement’ is one of the main areas identified in our Comprehensive Needs Assessment and those questions remain with people and are carried with them for decades.

“My priority is victims and survivors. Compassion, kindness and treating people with respect and dignity permeate everything that we do at the Commission and I am continuously and proactively engaging with the sector, to build trust and confidence.

“There is always going to be controversy when it comes to the politics of the Troubles, but there should be no question that when it comes to individuals who fit within the legal remit of victim and survivor, then I will do my best for them without fear or favour.”

logo-header-cropped Commission for Victims and Survivors
1st Floor, Head Line Building
10-14 Victoria Street
Belfast, BT1 3GG
Tel: 028 9031 1000
Email: commission@cvsni.org
Web: www.cvsni.org

Profile: Kathryn Stone OBE

The Commission for Victims and Survivors was established in 2008. Kathryn Stone was appointed as a single Commissioner in September 2012. She was previously Chief Executive of Voice UK, a national learning disability charity.

She was previously also Principal Inspector for Milton Keynes Council and Head of Inspection for the London Boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham and Barking and Dagenham, responsible for the regulation of residential, nursing and day care. Kathryn has been a member of the Home Office Victims Advisory Panel (2006-2010). She received an OBE in 2007 for services to people with learning disabilities and is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Directors.

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