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Thursday 18 September 2014

Troubles victim group facing major cuts in funding

Published 20/08/2014 | 21:57

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Enniskillen bombing in 1987
Enniskillen bombing in 1987

Troubles victims are facing further distress because of major cuts in funding, it has been claimed.

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More than £2 million has been slashed from the annual budget of the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS), and a further 4.4% of savings are required over the next 12 months.

Mike Nesbitt, a former Victims' Commissioner, warned that the future of some groups was being put at risk because of the current "crisis".

"This is a savage blow which will cause great hardship to many victims groups and indeed many are facing the prospect of closure," the Ulster Unionist Party leader said.

The VSS was set up in April 2012 as an arm's length body of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to provide resources for organisations which help those bereaved or injured as a result of Northern Ireland's sectarian conflict.

Its budget was in excess of £12 million last year, but was reduced to £10 million when the latest monitoring round was agreed by the Stormont administration in July.

Mr Nesbitt added: "Of all people, why should the bereaved have to suffer again?"

Earlier this month, the Pheonix Project - which assists former members of the security forces traumatised by their experiences - claimed it may have to shut several branches because of a lack of money.

John Beggs, secretary to the Northern Ireland Victims Commission, said that although it had opposed any reduction of frontline services, they would have not choice but to pass on the efficiency savings to the groups it supports.

He said: "It is essential that those who have suffered most for so many years are given priority when it comes to continuing vital support within the community and through the VSS."

Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson linked the funding shortfall to Stormont's failure to implement controversial welfare reform.

"The impact of not proceeding with welfare reform is starting to become very stark for many people across Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein's refusal to implement welfare reform is leading to them being directly responsible for multi-million pound fines which are now coming from budgets including those to help victims," the Lagan Valley MP said.

In a statement, OFMDFM said Ministers had committed victims' funding to be protected at the baseline of £11.3 million a year.

A spokeswoman said: "Owing to a significant number of new victims coming forward we are proactively managing the budget.

"In the tight financial climate all budgets need to be prioritised. Therefore we have asked the Victims and Survivors Service, the Commission and the delivery groups to seek a 4.4% efficiency in administration."

It is understood further bids for victims' funding will be reconsidered in the October monitoring round.

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