Bertha McDougall, the widow of an RUC reservist murdered by the INLA in 1981, has pledged to perform her new duties with an independent voice but she has so far declined to answer questions on what, in her view, constitutes a “victim”.
She also declined to say if she believed family members of a dead IRA activist, killed on “active service,” would fall within the description and also declined to answer questions on how she had been chosen for the post.
McDougall told a news conference on Monday that she would be offering an “open door” to anyone who wanted to make representations to her. “I want to ensure that everyone is treated in a fair and equitable manner,” she said.
An ex-primary school teacher, she set up the victims’ group, Forgotten Families. Northern Secretary, Peter Hain, said her experience in working with victims will be “vital in helping to address the needs of those who have suffered great personal loss.”
The commissioner will look at key areas relating to services for victims, funding arrangements in relation to services and grants paid to victims and survivors groups and individual victims and survivors.
DUP leader Ian Paisley said McDougall’s experiences “ideally equip her to champion the needs of victims. I hope this appointment will start the process of putting the needs of victims at the top of the agenda.”
Ulster Unionist spokesman Derek Hussey, from County Tyrone, also said he believed she was an ideal candidate for the job. “The innocent victims of terrorist violence need an independent voice who can act as a strong advocate on their behalf,” he said.
But the SDLP’s Patricia Lewsley said that if the British government was “serious about parity of esteem for all victims, then it should not be consulting with or seeking the approval of one political party only for an appointment.”