Slugger O'Toole

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Victims Commissioner under fire

Mon 3 July 2006, 1:51am

Things don’t seem to be going swimmingly for the Secretary of State. In the High Court last week, the Judicial Review against the appointment of Bertha McDougall as Victim’s Commissioner revealed some uncomfortable information. The Head of the NICS, Nigel Hamilton advised the Court that Mr Hain was ‘mindful’ that Mrs McDougall’s name had been put forward by the DUP.

Not good enough for Judge Girvan who has ordered Hamilton to appear for cross-examination. Where a deponent has used language of such an ambiguous nature then the court should grant leave to cross-examine The Secretary of State may find himself appearing before the Court on this matter also. Of a far more serious nature is Mrs McDougall’s attitude to the ‘hierarchy of victims.Seamus Treacy QC, for Mrs Downes, said the question to be determined was whether the appointment of Mrs McDougall was merit-based or was made for an improper motive. If it was for the latter then it was done for reasons of political expediency and was not impartial,” he said.

Mr Treacy quoted from a document obtained following a court order which stated that Mrs McDougall had indicated to NIO officials that she would find it difficult to regard those convicted of terrorism in the same category as the broad range of victims.

This would make her a very narrowly defined Victims’s Commissioner, and one in whom victims of state violence could have little confidence, based on this statement.

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Comments (20)

  1. bertie says:

    and if she did consider terrorists in the same category as innocent victims then she would not have the confidence of many of those innocent victims.

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  2. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Before this spirals into an argument about the victims.

    In his written affidavit to the court the Head of the Civil Service, Nigel Hamilton, used ambiguous language which appeared to suggest that Peter Hain took into account who had nominated Mrs McDougall for the post – the DUP – when appointing her.

    Judge Girvan, in response has, in fact, applied the rule of law evenly and insisted that the Head of the Civil Service appear in person to explain his position.

    But, based on that written testimony, it looks suspiciously like another case of the Secretary of State manipulating the public appointments procedure for political motives.

    After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.

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  3. missfitz says:

    Pete
    You cannot get away from the fact that the Interim Commissioner has said to the NIO that she would have difficulty with all of those who consider themselves to be victims of the Troubles. That is the issue at stake with this JR.

    While there is obviously the perspective that you have chosen to highlight in regard to the partiality or otherwise of Mr Hain, there is a wider issue that has be considered, and that is the function, role and inclusiveness of any future Victim Commissioner, if we are to have one.

    If we need a debate about victims, then so be it. This became an issue with Sir Kenneth Bloomfield’s report and remains so for many people.

    http://sinnfein.ie/news/detail/1370

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  4. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Miss Fitz

    To me the greater issue remains the Secretary of State’s cavalier approach to appointments and his disregard of the public appointments’ procedure.

    The problem I have with the reference to Mrs Dougall’s opinions is that they are not definitive. Neither, according to the reference, does the QC involved indicate that it meant she would discriminate against one section of the community – only an indication that she would find it difficult to regard all those convicted of terrorism in the same category as the broad range of victims.

    Her views on that are, without the necessary clarification, irrelevant.. it was the Secretary of State who appointed her and the focus, IMHO, should be on him and his reasons for that decision. Remember, the legal ruling in the Parades Commission appointments was that since the appointees asserted that they would be impartial then the ruling was that the SoS acted reasonably.

    It’s also important to remember at this point that these are arguments being put forward by the QC for the complainant. Not an actual ruling. In this case the QC will marshall as many arguments as he thinks he can make.. but without detail those points themselves remain ambiguous.

    Going back to my original point, the Secretary of State has form for manipulating the appointments process.. and this looks like another example of that.

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  5. missfitz says:

    I have no difficulty agreeing that there are 2 separate issues here, and I fully endorse what you are saying about the SoS approach to appointments and the resulting chaos he is bringing to us. If one was cynical, one might wonder if the point was to force our politicians to finally accept they might do a better job.

    However, I firmly stick to my point on Mrs McDougall’s statment of partiality. If she was appointed having stated she could not be fair, it surely underpins the point you are making. How could this be a fair appointment when she stated she could not be impartial?

    Her remit, as far as I know is to make receommendations for or against a permanent appointment. I have no idea about the nature or extent of the work she has been doing, but this JR calls the entire process into question, including all of the terms of reference and appointment

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  6. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    But my point is that the detail provided so far does not indicate that she would not be fair.. that’s the implication of the argument by the QC who is arguing for the appointment to be quashed.

    All that the reference indicates is that she said to the NIO that she would find it difficult to regard those convicted of terrorism in the same category as the broad range of victims.

    Firstly, that’s not a direct quote. Secondly she’s not quoted as saying she would treat republicans differently from loyalists – only that she would find it difficult to treat those convicted of terrorism in the same category as the broad range of victims. Thirdly, she doesn’t say it she would find it impossible – hence my reference to the SoS acting reasonably in appointments previously.

    It may seem like an argument on semantics.. but the legal ruling will rest on those semantics.

    That’s why I’m not convinced that that particular charge has been proven.

    However, the case for the SoS manipulating the public appointments procedure for political purposes fits his particular modus operandi.

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  7. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Just to add, Miss Fitz, I think I covered the remit of the interim appointment as Commissioner when it was announced

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  8. Crataegus says:

    Bertha McDougall should not have been appointed as her views make her appointment inappropriate and Mr Hain should know better than to have interfered in the process. Who does he think he is the Viceroy?

    These sorts of incidents give one an uneasy feeling; one has to ask what other appointments, what other jobs or promotions? Is this place being run on a par with appointments to the House of Lords? All these deals and side deals are utterly pathetic.

    I think this is another case of British Ministers not being up to their job and in many ways it typifies a lack lustre government that was always mediocre but which has also become complacent.

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  9. Nevin says:

    New Chief Commissioner appointed

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  10. McGrath says:

    Hain is like electricity, he takes the path of least resistance.

    Maybe he just doesnt like us Paddy’s.

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  11. Alan says:

    There’s a lot further to go on this obviously.

    I can’t see how the the fact that she recognises that she would find it *difficult to regard those convicted of terrorism in the same category as the broad range of victims* as a problem.

    One side will require that they are so recognised and the other side will find that an impossible starting position.

    Surely, it is better to recognise that there is an issue and that you will have to work to overcome that?

    One tip for civil servants here – don’t use meaningless terms such as minded or mindful in court documents. The world won’t hesitate to demand an end to your ambiguity.

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  12. carlosblancos says:

    In the case of those who have lost their lives, one thing we can be sure of is that families left behind have suffered, and that families had little or no input into any decision by an individaul to get involved in paramilitaries, and should not be punished by the prejudices of Bertha.

    Bertha should remember that while moral example is something we can all practice, moral superiority is the job of the Big Guy upabove, and him alone.

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  13. Ex UUP says:

    terrorists arent victims theyre terrorits – get used to it

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  14. carlosblancos says:

    They may be terror twits or terror tits but they’re not certainly not terrorits.

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  15. Rapunsel says:

    Whilst I see there are two distinct issues here in respect of the process of appointment and the ability of Bertha McDougall to perform her duites impartially — there is also another related issue which I was surprised Slugger didn’t pick up in the last couple of weeks.

    http://www.cvsni.org/

    The Victims Commissioner has issued her interim report. It’s one of the most shoddy and badly put together pieces of work I’ve ever seen. I’m told that whilst the Victims Commissioner is receving support from OFMDFM that most of the staff come from external consultancy firms and are felt to have a very limited grasp of the issues. The report reads like it was written by an A level student. The commissioner when being interviewed on Radio Ulster last week confused the issue of the needs of individual victims and the need to provide funding to the very many self help victims groups. Mrs McDougall missed the opportunity to pose hard questions for those that consider themselves to work in the victims sector.

    1. Most victims aren’t members of any group
    2. Many groups are politically motivated with little evidence of professional service delivery to the very people they claim to represent
    3. Many groups are nepotistic and the issue of lack of funding is to seek to maintain the status quo in terms of positions of employment rather than meet the needs of victims.
    4. Funding for victims and victims groups are two different issues .
    5. Peace funding has made a significant contribution to the establishment of victims groups and to the needs of some victims. However the contribution is relatively minor when looked at in terms of the wider resources available.
    6. Government will largely ignore Mrs McDougall’s report — make no mistake that the strategy is to see a decline in these small and unrepresentative groups misusing public funds. Mrs McDougall is both off message and seen as an increasing irrelevance.
    7. I’ll bet that the courts will rule in facour of Mrs Downes

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  16. bertie says:

    carlosblancos

    “In the case of those who have lost their lives, one thing we can be sure of is that families left behind have suffered, and that families had little or no input into any decision by an individaul to get involved in paramilitaries, and should not be punished by the prejudices of Bertha.

    Bertha should remember that while moral example is something we can all practice, moral superiority is the job of the Big Guy upabove, and him alone. ”

    On what did you base your accusation of prejudice. She said talked about convicted terrorist. She is prejudging nothing.She is judging them on the basis of their convictions (criminal not value system). She hasn’t commented on families of terorists unless you have access to other information.

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  17. Miss Fitz (profile) says:

    Rapunsel
    While your link is useful (I’ve never been able to find it before), I dont think that it is the Interim report. It looks like an initial report, and covers funding, but unless I am missing something bigger on the site, there is no Interim Report of the nature that is being expected there.

    I take issue also with your description of her staff. Your depiction of them as mainly consultants is incorrect, as there was a strict procedure for the hiring of the staff to the office on an interim basis, and there are some very well qualified and highly professional people working there,

    You make some great points. Bertha has been seeing groups and individuals in an effort to write her report, I suggest (sincerely) that you forward your points, although I think you might find they will be covered in the full and final report

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  18. carlosblancos says:

    Bertie,

    A significant part of her role is to deal with issues surrounding victims families. Some of those will be families where the ‘victim’ was involved in terrorist behaviour. The brother/sister/mother/father of a convicted paramilitary suffers the same as the relative of an RUC man, perhaps Bertha understands this. I hope she does…

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  19. bertie says:

    My point was that you can’t extrapolate from her attitude to terrorists to their families. I dosagree the family of a convicted terrorist who is killed as a result suffers the same as the relative of an RUC man.

    Putting myself in the situation where I lose a loved one who is a terrorists would bring up a range of emotions and reactions of mine (not least my disgust at what they stood for) and of others to to me, than would be the case if I lost a loved one in the security forces and therein would mean different needs.

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  20. Rapunsel says:

    Miss Fitz

    My mistake. I hadn’t previewed my post and indeed the report on funding is an initial report. I don’t expect that she wil be able or willing to address the fundamental issues in terms of the so called ” victims sector” but I will wait and see like everyone else

    “I take issue also with your description of her staff. Your depiction of them as mainly consultants is incorrect, as there was a strict procedure for the hiring of the staff to the office on an interim basis, and there are some very well qualified and highly professional people working there”

    Fair enough but that’s an opinion. My opinion is based on my personal experience of some of the individuals employed — including regrettably of Mrs McDougall herself.

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