Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Danny Kennedy (Chairperson)
Mrs Naomi Long (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Dolores Kelly
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Barry McElduff
Mr Francie Molloy
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Jim Shannon
Mr Jimmy Spratt
Mr Brendan McAllister )
Ms Patricia MacBride ) The Commission for Victims and Survivors
Mrs Bertha McDougall )
Mr Michael Nesbitt )
The Chairperson (Mr Kennedy):
The commissioners for Victims and Survivors are here to discuss their work programme, which was out for consultation over the summer. The Committee will also seek the views of the victims’ commissioners on the draft strategic approach to victims and survivors, which is currently out for consultation. Members have been provided with copies of the draft strategy and the victims’ commissioners’ draft work programme, together with copies of the Clerk’s brief, which highlights areas in which the members may wish to raise concerns with the Commission.
Members will be aware that the victims’ commissioners held a discussion workshop for MLAs on Monday last in the Stormont Hotel. Copies of the papers from the workshop have also been provided for members. Today’s session will be recorded by Hansard for publication on the Committee’s website.
On behalf of the Committee, I welcome Mr Mike Nesbitt, Ms Patricia MacBride, Mrs Bertha McDougall and Mr Brendan McAllister. Thank you for your attendance today. I invite you to make an opening statement, after which members will have an opportunity to ask questions.
Mrs Bertha McDougall (The Commission for Victims and Survivors):
Thank you, Chairperson. We welcome the opportunity to discuss what has happened since last we met. The standing orders for our work programme have been submitted to OFMDFM, and we await clarification on certain aspects that will allow us to finalise our management statement.
We will answer questions in much the same way as we did during our previous meeting with the Committee — it may be that one or other of us will answer certain questions on areas of work with which we are familiar.
We will first deal with your work plan. It might be useful to highlight your immediate priorities.
One of the main areas of work that we have been asked to address is the comprehensive needs assessment. That work has begun, and a tender has been awarded. We expect to have that information before Christmas. It will inform the draft strategy and help OFMDFM to ensure that next year’s funding will address needs. We hope to be able to identify some early issues.
Mr Mike Nesbitt (The Commission for Victims and Survivors):
As members know, £36 million has been ring-fenced over the next three years for victims and survivors. It is our duty to ensure that that money is spent in the most efficient and effective manner possible. To date, although individual groups and certain areas have addressed the idea of exact needs, there has never been a comprehensive assessment of need across the whole of the country. We are trying to address that at the moment.
Anyone in this room could compile a list of needs that included issues such as counselling, therapy, befriending, justice, truth recovery, storytelling and acknowledgement, but no one has attempted to put numbers against those various needs. Until we do, we cannot be confident that we are spending the money properly. Once the comprehensive needs assessment process is under way, I will be more relaxed, knowing that the £36 million will be spent in an efficient and effective way and that value for money can be demonstrated. We intend to do that as soon as is practicable, in conjunction with the proposed forum project.
The comprehensive needs will then be fed back to OFMDFM, with recommendations on how the money should be prioritised and spent.
At the briefing to which you invited MLAs on Monday, you indicated that the timescale of your work programme was somewhat different to the hopes and expectations of the Department. Can you comment further on that, and how you see that being dealt with?
Mr Brendan McAllister (The Commission for Victims and Survivors):
We have concerns about the indicative timescale for the next 10 years of the strategy, which has been set out in the Department’s consultation document. Our principal concern is with the timing of the comprehensive needs assessment and the establishment of the service. The Department hopes to establish a service during the next financial year. Its priorities will be determined by the comprehensive needs assessment, which the commission will send to it, having consulted with the forum.
It will take some time to establish the forum; it is unlikely that it will be convened before Easter, and possibly not before May or June. Perhaps the Committee will return to the issue of the forum at another time. Involving the forum in producing a comprehensive needs assessment in time for the service to use it early in the next financial year is the first piece of the jigsaw that will not quite fit into place. We envisage an interim arrangement, whereby an interim review of needs is established. We hope to use that in discussions with the Department to help provide an evidence base for funding over the next year.
How has the Department reacted to that?
Mr B McAllister:
We are still in discussion with the Department about that.
Mike Nesbitt mentioned the commission’s budget of £36 million over the next three years. I am delighted to hear that the commissioners are concerned that the money be spent effectively and efficiently. In the past, I have not been convinced that the money had been well spent. Previously, I referred to the other group, by which I mean the group of individuals who are not involved with any groups. Those people make up a large percentage of victims and they come from various areas, but, traditionally, they have not become involved with any groups over the years. I am aware that the commissioners do a lot of good work in dealing with, and talking to, individuals, and listening to their stories.
I remain concerned about how those individuals can be addressed during the interim period, particularly with regard to how the budget of £36 million is spent. Is any effective mechanism in place to ensure that their needs, for instance a pain clinic, are addressed?
The financial needs of individuals are addressed through the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund. As you will know, Mr Spratt, the whole question of funding is up for review under the 10-year strategy out of OFMDFM. It is high time for such a review, and some of the well-respected intermediate funding bodies, such as the Community Relations Council will also agree that it is high time that a fundamental review of the funding process and the delivery vehicle for getting funds to groups and individuals is carried out. That must be a major review of the vehicle; this is not the time to simply pump up the tyres and adjust the wing nuts.
A new way of doing things must be found by taking whatever has worked in the past and cutting out what does not work. OFMDFM’s strategy indicates a new service, but it has not put any flesh on the bones of that. We have definite opinions about what that should be. The service should be about attitude. I am struck by the number of individuals who are at least as angry and traumatised by the way that they have been treated by the state, services and society since they became victims and survivors as they were by the individuals and groups that made them victims and survivors in the first place.
That comes down to attitude. It is wrong and shameful and it can be changed relatively quickly at very little cost — if we set our minds to it.
I have received criticism from constituents and others about the memorial fund, and some of you said at yesterday’s briefing that you have received criticism. Have you passed those criticisms — specifically in relation to the memorial fund — back to the Department?
We are in continual communication with the Department and concerning the memorial fund. You asked how we could be sure that individuals get funding. We anticipate that we will have a response to the tender about the needs assessment that was awarded last week. When that response comes through, it will be an early indication to the Department as to where it should focus funding. Alongside that, we believe that we will have to introduce clear advice to the Department as to how individuals will access that funding. Individuals’ groups have certain routes, but individuals need a much clearer pathway.
Mrs D Kelly:
I am struck by the Commission’s work plan. Have you had any difficulty getting parts of the work plan approved by Ministers? What exactly needs clarification? Your work plan for September to November stated that you would identify legislation which has particular relevance to victims and survivors and look for weaknesses and gaps in that legislation. Is that work still ongoing? What clarification do Ministers need, and has your work plan been agreed by OFMDFM?
Our work plan is with the Department.
Mrs D Kelly:
So it is not agreed?
It is not agreed. We have had ongoing negotiations with the Department, and nothing has come as a surprise. As far as we are aware, the work plan is with the Ministers, and that is where the agreement must come from.
Mrs D Kelly:
How long has the work plan been with the Department?
We finalised the work plan with the Department last week. We had been working on the details of it with the Department during the past couple of months, so there was nothing in the work programme that was new to the Department, or that it had not been aware of on the way through.
Mrs D Kelly:
I am trying to tease out whether elements of the work plan have been able to be progressed in the absence of overall approval?
Ms Patricia MacBride (The Commission for Victims and Survivors):
The indication from departmental officials is that we can expect full approval from Ministers by the end of the month, which will mean that we will be able to implement all of the proposed programmes in the work plan. Elements of the plan have progressed; for example, starting initial discussions with groups and individuals regarding the forum; and examining the development of our communications policies.
However, elements of our initial work programme have been amended as a result of the consultation we undertook when we published our first draft in June. We had public meetings and met with stakeholder groups and, from their feedback, we were heartened by the fact that there did not appear to be any glaring omissions in the work programme. The key stakeholders felt that we were addressing the needs as expressed to us.
That feedback refined our thinking on certain elements of the work programme. In the initial draft we considered a review of services provided on behalf of victims and survivors. However, during the refinement of our work programme we identified that issues such as compensation and the benefits system should be taken out of a general review of services and receive the status of individual projects. That would give us the capacity to devote additional resources and staff to those projects to more fully inform our thinking on the development of a three-year corporate plan on how we address issues of compensation and how the benefit system is used in respect of victims and survivors.
That illustrates the progress that we have made on some subjects.
Mrs D Kelly:
There is considerable overlap, and some confusion, between the strategy and the commission’s work. Furthermore, given that you plan to deal with past matters, how will you resolve the resultant overlap with the Eames/Bradley work?
I shall address the strategy first.
We would prefer to consider the work plan before dealing with the strategy. Patricia said that officials, or Ministers, would approve the work plan by the end of the month. I presume that that month is October?
Are Ministers required to present the work plan to the Executive for clearance?
The enacting legislation stipulates that the commission’s work programme must be approved by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, but not necessarily by the Executive. My colleagues and I are due to meet the First Minister and the deputy First Minister tomorrow, when we hope to make significant progress and when any questions that they have about the work programme can be addressed to speed up the approval process.
At this time, the fact that the First Minister and the deputy First Minister — rather than the Executive — must approve your work programme is good news.
Brendan anticipated our returning to discuss the forum. We have already discussed the process that you will follow, and we are aware of the fact that the exploration aspect of that process was supposed to start in October or thereabouts. When established, the forum is intended to be helpful in facilitating consultation with victims and survivors about major changes; however, major changes to funding mechanisms and the Department’s draft strategic approach are already planned. You mentioned the interim arrangements that have been put in place for the first year. Has there been any progress in establishing the forum?
Secondly, given the fact that the current process will end this week, in the absence of a forum, how will victims and survivors voice their concerns about the proposed changes to the draft strategic approach and to the funding mechanisms?
Thirdly, if people perceive that much of the strategic approach is already in place and that there is little potential to influence it, how will you invigorate them to engage with the forum?
I apologise for asking so many questions.
Mr B McAllister:
Consultation about the strategy finishes at the end of the month and, to involve victims and survivors, we circulated details of three workshops, in Derry, Omagh — this time, we made sure that we went to Tyrone — and, last week, Belfast.
The workshops enabled us to brief people about our understanding of the strategy and to share our emergent thinking; they gave people a chance to begin to think aloud, and to reflect together, about their impressions and to make us aware of those initial reactions.
Although we have yet to draw conclusions about the strategy, we are close to doing so. In the process of developing our thinking, we attempted to put our ear to the ground by promoting the idea that people could come, without ceremony, to talk together, meet and be informed by us and inform our response. We wanted to reach out to, and involve, people by assisting them to respond to the strategy individually and in groups.
We planned to begin the forum project this month, October.
We have deliberately named the steps, the first of which is exploration. The exploratory conversations have begun. We have taken opportunities to gather views about the forum, and we know that the community has different expectations and various concerns. Some people are excited about it, whereas others are sceptical. We believe that the interests of victims and survivors will be best developed if all work is based on the sound foundation of consensus among key stakeholders. Therefore, we want to build that consensus from the start by establishing the forum as outlined in the legislation.
After our exploratory discussions, we hope, by the end of November, to have drafted an aim and a set of objectives for the forum. However, those will be merely drafts. Between December 2008 and the end of January 2009, we will establish the next phase, which is a formal assessment of the viability of a forum. We will gauge people’s opinions of the forum’s proposed aims and objectives. That will result in the production of an initial assessment report, which we will publish on our website to ensure that people feel informed about the thinking as it evolves. The Commission will consider the initial assessment report and, on that basis, will make a decision about the timeline of a forum and the direction in which to proceed.
At that stage, we hope to commence the design phase, the outcome of which, during February and March 2009, will be a design plan that will address issues such as the membership of the forum, how it will conduct its business and the broad principles on which it will operate. We hope that, by that stage, if we conduct our work properly and carefully — and people in all sectors are happy to engage with us — we will have a final design in which not only victims, survivors groups and individuals, but policy makers and Government will have confidence.
I will the address the interim-funding question. We hope to ensure that the £36 million that rests with OFMDFM reaches individuals and groups. Our job will be to ensure that as representative a sample of individuals and groups as possible attends the forum. One of the forum’s main functions will be to encourage them to work with us on the comprehensive needs assessment. That will not be a one-off published document, rather a living document that will continually change to reflect the fact that the needs of victims and survivors continually change. Therefore, we will continually submit prioritised recommendations to the Department for the next round of spending of the £36 million.
Before that, however, we have commissioned research to determine what needs assessments have already been undertaken. That process should identify gaps, and, furthermore, I hope that it will identify areas where there is clear evidence of need from which we can construct interim recommendations to present to the Department. We hope to complete that research before the end of 2008 and to make interim recommendations to the Department before the end of the 2008-09 financial year.
It is nice to see you again; I see you regularly in the paper, but it is nice to see you in the flesh. I agree with my colleague Jimmy Spratt’s comments. One of the key themes of your aims is how to reach individuals who are not members of groups.
Your submission outlined that you have held a series of public and private consultations to develop the programme of work. I presume that those consultations reached out to groups and individuals. What feedback did you receive, and did you reach more groups than individuals? If so, how do you intend to readdress that issue?
Most of the victims and survivors that I know are not members of groups. However, that is specific to the area that I represent — in other parts of the Province, such as the west, there are a lot of groups established for victims and survivors. In the area that I represent, which is in the east of the Province, many of the victims are not part of groups.
Obviously, you have been contact with the PSNI, the Police Ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team. What response have you received from those three bodies? At such an early stage, have you been able to ascertain the effectiveness of The Commission for Victims and Survivors? Do people feel that it is the body that will make things happen for them?
Mr B McAllister:
To be candid, we have some concerns about our capacity to deal with individuals. All the Victims’ Commissioners are in touch with people who contact the office — we have a system of responding to enquiries and sharing the casework. The issues that people are contacting us with are of such depth that they could keep us all working full time and prevent us from engaging in strategic work, which we are primarily bound to address.
Another difficulty is that we do not yet have a full complement of staff, so we have to do a lot of spade work. That is useful in the short term, because we get a vivid illustration of the human issues that we deal with. However, in the long term, we will not be able to maintain that level of contact, and we will require help from staff. Furthermore, we anticipate that, when the service is established, and we expect to have a key role in framing an effective service, the capacity to address and respond to individual needs will be improved.
As we go along, a full range of issues is presented to us by victims and survivors. We try to discuss those issues with each other and, where we think that there is a strategic issue that we can immediately raise with the relevant Department, we do so. However, our casework is still at an early stage in its development, because our priority over the past few months has been to get our strategic course set and approved by Government.
Meeting individuals is the biggest single challenge that we will face. However, we are up to that challenge. We have received hundreds of calls from individuals. As I said, the way that we — as a society and individuals, the state and the state services — have treated people after they became victims and survivors has often been shameful. A couple of days ago, I took a call from someone I had met in June. A member of staff said that he had rung me, so I called him back late that evening. He was surprised that I had phoned him and, at the end of our three- or four-minute conversation, was so grateful that someone had asked him how he was. It should not be like that. Brendan is correct — we do not have the resources to talk to tens of thousands of individuals. However, that should not deter us from setting sail on that course.
I will address Mr Shannon’s question about the PSNI, the Police Ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team. We have had contact with each of those organisations, primarily on a casework rather than a strategic basis. Part of our work programme for the current financial year until March 2009 is to work with stakeholder groups and individuals to develop our own thinking on the justice system and how it addresses the needs of victims and survivors.
There are a number of significant issues in the roles of both the ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team — inquest processes. That is our thinking, and we want that to be informed by those for whom it is our responsibility to act as advocates. It is likely that there will be additional discussion based on this week’s revelations regarding the Consultative Group on the Past, which I am sure we will touch on in the future.
At this stage of our work, however, the casework that we undertake on behalf of individuals that is informs our thinking on those judicial processes and how they impact on, deliver, and, in some cases, fail to deliver what people are looking for from the judicial system. That will be ongoing.
You are welcome back before the Committee. A cynic might say that getting to the work stage seems to be a long-winded exercise. What is happening on the ground? Mike’s point is at a dangerous angle: when dealing with each individual enquiry, then when it comes to a strategic role, how do you separate the two issues? Why has it taken so long to set up the forum? If the whole process is to be victim-centred and victim-led, surely the forum should be one of the first entities to come into being? By your responses, it seems to me that you are going to select who is on the forum, how it is formed and what it will talk about. That seems to contradict the line about it being victim-centred.
That should not be the impression. Ultimately, by a process that we are working through, we want to end up with a forum that, from the early stages, will involve the maximum number of people who are enabled to put forward their views and queries. This is so people feel that, at each stage, they have an opportunity to come along and give us their views and opinions, and that they are not excluded. That is one of the fundamental issues in the initial stages. Brendan is focusing on the forum at the moment, and will add to that point.
Mr B McAllister:
I accept Mr Molloy’s observation that, from his perspective, it looks to be a very slow process. We have had a lot of other things to do, and do quickly, as part of becoming established as a non-departmental public body. We have had to set up an organisation, refine our programme by consultation and submit it for the approval of Ministers. Until that is approved, we do not have much scope to develop that programme. We are obliged under the legislation to do that.
Regarding the sector, you would be amazed at the confusion that we sometimes find among people about the difference between this body and the Eames/Bradley group or the Department itself. We sometimes receive criticism from people who think that they are talking to departmental officials. We have to explain, over and over, who we are. We have been very anxious to establish consensus and to design something that enjoys the broadest-possible confidence. At the moment, the whole issue of the forum — and, indeed, our work — is not free of contention. We could very quickly come up with a blueprint for a forum, and move fast, but our concern is that we could end up with something that did not work. Our worry then would be that we would do damage instead of good, and discredit the whole idea of a forum that gives victims and survivors a place where they can be heard with credibility.
What work has been undertaken to remove obstacles to work and education opportunities for victims and survivors? What kinds of obstacles have been encountered? How are they removed?
How accessible is the office? It has been highlighted in the Bain Report as an office that could be relocated. Are you aware of any plans for relocation?
The first we knew of the proposal for the location of the commission’s office was when the report on the location of public-sector jobs was published. No discussions were held with us, or, as far as I am aware, with OFMDFM. We did not anticipate, as did the Bain report, that we would have an office of approximately 30 staff. We carefully considered locations for the office, looking at places outside Belfast and at industrial areas. Our main criterion was to ensure that wherever the office is located, it can be accessed by public transport. We have decided, therefore, that the office will be in Belfast. At the moment, we hope to move to Windsor House. We considered all sorts of options, but it came back to the fact that most people can access public transport to Belfast. We recognise that many people might be unhappy that the office is not based in their locality, but there are also sensitivities around where the commissioners would be based in particular areas. Those are the decisions that we made, and the reasons behind them.
I want to emphasise that we were not consulted by Sir George Bain. Had he asked us, we would have been able to tell him that we were well down the road of securing the nineteenth floor of Windsor House. I believe that he is charged with moving about 5,000 civil servants out of Belfast —
To be fair, Sir George Bain has made recommendations, but it will be up to the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Executive to make any final decisions.
I stand corrected; however, as we stand, we could help him to shift three civil servants.
We have identified three areas of education that must be considered. The first area concerns victims and survivors who missed out on their formal education, and we have had discussions with the Department for Employment and Learning about schemes that could be tailored to give them a second chance.
The second area about which we have particular concerns involves inter generational and transgenerational issues and the effects of the conflict being passed on down the line. Those issues must be addressed at primary level, but not just in schools — if parents, families and the community are not on board and do not recognise the importance of education for their children, we will get nowhere. The teachers cannot make a difference unless they are properly equipped and supported.
The third area of education involves teaching and learning about the conflict, which is a societal issue, not just one for victims and survivors. It is absolutely essential that, if future generations are thinking of revisiting the conflict, they understand the human cost in full.
I want to return to Mr McElduff’s point about the location of the commission. As Mr McAllister said earlier, we have almost completed our response to OFMDFM’s consultation on the outline draft strategic approach for victims and survivors. One issue that we have considered is the need to ensure that the new victims’ service be regionally accessible to victims and survivors. We hope to make a recommendation that when that service is constituted, it will be accessible on a local level. We are not yet sure what the delivery mechanism will be, but it is critical that there is no perception that there is simply a Belfast-based central unit that is remote from those who need to access its services.
I must express my complete disappointment that you have picked Belfast as the location for your central office at a time when the focus is on decentralisation. Public transport is readily available to most major towns, even those in the west that are cut off from most other services.
I am delighted that the office will be based in Belfast.
As am I — I am thrilled.
As one from Strangford —
We will not split the Committee on this issue today.
I welcome the commissioners to the Committee this afternoon. I will return to the role of the individual, and I make no apology for doing so. Your paper says that the forum must include statutory, voluntary and community organisations and, obviously, victims’ groups. How will the individual victim be represented in that forum?
Mr B McAllister:
We do not know. That is certainly a task for us. There are certain individual victims who are skilled advocates in their own right, and who have made their presence felt in the short time that the commission has been in existence. We are well aware that those people have every hope that they will be given a voice in a forum, and that, of course, is our intention.
We know that there is an expectation — not only here, but beyond — that the forum will be a place where groups and individuals will have a voice. We have to explore how best that can be achieved.
May I clarify that you are reading from the outline strategy proposed by the Department, and not from something that the commission produced?
In our response to the strategy, we said clearly that that pre-supposes the discussion model for establishing the forum. It does not say that statutory organisations are excluded from the forum; however, we are trying to facilitate a discussion and development process that is victim-centred and victim-led. If the individuals and groups who represent victims and survivors determine that that is not the case, the forum should not be constituted in that way.
I wanted to highlight that many victims are not represented by groups.
That leads us neatly to a discussion on the draft strategy. Are details on the proposed victims’ and survivors’ service any clearer?
We are not in a position to provide details, because we do not know what the plans are for the next stage of that service. As far as we are aware, OFMDFM is working on that document. We expect that we will see it, but, at this stage, we have no further views. The commission, internally, as part of our response to the strategy document, has started to identify the aspects that we want to see in the service.
Have you had no direct input into the thinking of the Department on the issue? How satisfactory, or wise, is that?
The draft strategy’s timeline stated that the paper on the service would be published in August 2008. It is now October 2008; we have asked why there has been a delay, and have been told that they are working on it. In the meantime, we have been working on it, and we have some views about the values, attitudes and objectives that the service should achieve, and we will be more than happy to share them when we publish our response to the outline strategy next week.
Have you been surprised that the Department has not earlier sought your view?
Early in the process, we informed the Department that we anticipated being completely involved in the process. We have done a lot of thinking about that, because we have decided what aspects the service should have as an entity, and about how that service might be delivered and implemented. That will go back to the Department.
Chairman, you have illustrated how worrying it is that OFMDFM, after a long time and a lot of prevarication, has eventually got round to setting up the commission, provided it with the legislation, and, subsequently, gone off and acted by itself with regard to the victims’ and survivors’ service. I see a lot of overlap and confusion in respect of the strategy, the commission’s workplan and the Eames/Bradley group. I am not surprised that the public — and the victims and survivors — are confused, because we are confused. There is a great disjoint.
Will the service report to you? Will it be your responsibility? Will it be the responsibility of the Department? Given that the Department manages the £36 million, who has the say over where that money is spent?
We have had several discussions with the Department on where its role is between the service, the Department and the commission. One of the concerns is that we cannot be poacher and gamekeeper. If we are, people will come to us about the service and about its inadequacy or its operation. It would be difficult for us to be critical of a service, or to analyse where the issues were, if we were also responsible for running the service. At this stage, we have not had answers from the Department.
As I have said, there are many issues, and we are concerned that if this service is not adequately centralised in a certain way, we will end up with silos of different funding and different issues, because people cannot access it.
Just to clarify; our perception of the relationship between the various elements is that the commission, in conjunction with the forum, when it is constituted, will complete the comprehensive needs assessment, which will inform the prioritisation of the service’s spending.
We very much see our role as an oversight body and ombudsman for the service, to ensure that not only is funding delivered to groups and individuals, based on their articulated needs, but that that is done to a high standard. Standards of service and of implementation are in place, and we will monitor those standards to ensure that there is good value for money, minimal duplication, and co-operation on service delivery between the statutory, community and voluntary sectors, and that the needs of victims and survivors are met in a holistic way.
Mrs D Kelly:
Is it not the case that the majority of that money will be spent on health and social services, and therefore, there is an overlap? It would be a service, and a commissioning body, of itself.
I do not think that we are giving away any secrets in saying that, following our discussions, the Department accepts that the flow chart, and the annex to the outline draft, is flawed. I do not expect to see those in the final published strategy.
I was going to ask what you really thought, but that is OK. [Laughter.]
The interesting thing that you have identified, concerns how wide the comprehensive needs assessment will be. It is very easy to say that that will centre on spending the money on therapies, counselling and befriending. I take the view that there has to be a much broader definition of needs, and that that is where we have an influence. In association, I hope, with the forum, we can draw up those needs, put the numbers beside them, prioritise the spend, give that to the Department, and then oversee how it spends that money. If necessary, we can go back and say that we do not think the Department is doing what we asked. We will ask it to do things, not simply because we thought of them, but because we will have worked with victims and survivors in the forum, to come up with a living document called the comprehensive needs assessment.
One thing that has rankled with me is the relationship between the service, the commission, and the Department; I cannot get that relationship clear in my mind, despite having asked departmental officials. The flow chart that you referred to as flawed is better than the one with the arrows all going in one direction. It suggested that the Department would talk to the commissioners, but that the commissioners would not talk back, which was bizarre. That has been corrected; however, there are still issues. According to the flow chart, the Department does not seem to be talking to the service.
My concern with the service is that, on examining the information that was given to us, much of what will be contained in the service is already being done by other Departments. Those services need to be co-ordinated, not moved. Is it your perception that some of those things are already available? The difficulty is that people are being batted around. Rather than moving those services, what is needed is good signposting.
That leads me to my other question. At the time of the discussions around the role of the commission, my perception was that part of that role would be signposting people to the appropriate service. If that job is now going to be done by the victims’ and survivors’ service, will that mean, potentially, that people will go to the commissioners, be sent from there to the service, from there to wherever, and still feel that they are being batted around, just by different people. We thought that there would be a single point of contact that would signpost people on. It now seems that people will have to go through the commission, the service, and then on, to reach the end that they actually seek
Those people will get no relief from the feeling that they are distanced from those who are providing for them.
Ultimately, our commitment is that victims and survivors, whether individuals or groups, should not be given the runaround. There must be a way of ensuring that requests for information are followed through. When victims and survivors are under particular duress, they do not want to have to go from a to b to sort their way through. Our big concern is that, if the service is not adequately and appropriately co-ordinated and centralised, it will end up being fragmented, which will lead to duplication and people not being aware of certain things because those have not been clarified. We have many issues about the service.
You said that you want to inform the prioritisation of spending and that you want to monitor how the money is used; however, I understand from the your chart that the service will put the bids to the Department during the budgeting process. Will you discuss the setting of priorities with the Department? Will the service then bid for money from the Department, and those bids will be measured against the priorities? Or will you talk to the service about the bids that it will submit to the Department? How do you envisage that working to ensure that the money goes where the forum and the commissioners are directing that it should go?
Those are pertinent questions, and we too ask them. The strategy document says that some of the services may be tendered out to others. That raises the issue of whether one has to deal with the Department or with the service. We are currently addressing those issues, and we will address the issue about the service in our response. I do not have specific answers to your questions, but those are big concerns of each of us.
The point is well made. The annexe from the diagram shows no line between the service and the Department. That is an omission, and that needs clarification. The Department sees the service as being hands-off from it on a day-to-day basis. We are clear that the comprehensive needs assessment is critical, and we will work with the forum to establish prioritised spending. We will make recommendations directly to the service or through OFMDFM, whichever is easiest, and we will supervise the service. We will shout long and hard when we they are not doing what we think they should do.
Mrs Kelly mentioned duplication of the work that was carried out by the Eames/Bradley group. Have you made any recommendations on that duplication? The Eames/Bradley group is dealing with the past, but, in a sense, it is a legacy of the past that that group was there before your commission was appointed. Perhaps the Eames/Bradley group is now an obstacle to dealing with the past. Does your commission recommend how the Eames/Bradley group should be dealt with?
We have had several engagements with the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, the most recent of which took place this morning. We are all aware of the leaks that appeared at the start of the week. We are working on the basis of leaked information, as opposed to a report including recommendations. We will be much more comfortable when we are able to comment on the final report. After we have had the opportunity to study the group’s report, we will make public our considered views on it.
No one should automatically assume that we will agree or disagree with any or all of the group’s recommendations. We should bear in mind that speculation about those recommendations can be harmful, and, indeed, traumatising for individual victims and survivors. We will respect the confidentiality of our discussions with the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, but we will comment on its recommendations and look to ways in which we can, or cannot, support any of those recommendations.
In relation to the leaks that emerged at the beginning of the week, it appeared that in some of its submissions the Consultative Group on the Past effectively allocated roles and work to the commissioners for victims and survivors. Has that been discussed or explored with the commissioners? Are you, as commissioners for victims and survivors, happy to accept those tasks?
As I said, the ground rules of our discussions with the Consultative Group on the Past are clear. Each body respects the other’s independence and its right to form its own opinions. The Commission for Victims and Survivors is still in the process of forming its opinions. We commissioners came straight to the Committee from a meeting with the Consultative Group on the Past. Therefore, we have not had the chance, as a Commission, to discuss the outcome or content of that meeting. We have yet to form a collective opinion on that relationship.
Does the Commission for Victims and Survivors consider itself closer to the ear of OFMDFM than the Eames/Bradley group?
Mr B McAllister:
We do not know.
That is an interesting question. I suppose there are issues that everyone is aware of on which Eames/Bradley will report to the Northern Ireland Office; whereas the Commission for Victims and Survivors, as a body, has been set up by the devolved Government. However, as Patricia has indicated we must reflect on aspects of that as part of a process that is underway. We will be working on that over the next few weeks.
In the absence of any further questions from members, I thank the commissioners for their attendance and for a useful and productive exchange. The Committee looks forward to that continuing in the future.