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27 October 2005 Edition

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Appointment a sop to the DUP

Sinn Féin has labelled the appointment of RUC widow Bertha McDougall as the new Victims' Commissioner as a political sop to the DUP.

The appointment announced by the British Government this week has caused concern amongst victims' groups, particularly those representing victims and survivors of state and state-sponsored violence.

Victims' groups had not been consulted or invited to suggest nominations. In sharp contrast the DUP's Jeffery Donaldson said his party had been "fully consulted about the appointment". Sinn Féin and the SDLP have confirmed that they were not consulted.

Such a nomination appeared in a 54-page DUP wish list described as "confidence building measures" presented to the British Government earlier this month.

McDougall is a trustee of the RUC George Cross Foundation, an organisation offering counselling and support to injured or traumatised RUC and PSNI officers as well as bereaved relatives and carers.

Lindsay McDougall, a RUC Reservist, was shot dead when he stopped a car in Belfast's Great Victoria Street in January 1981. As a widow with three children, Bertha campaigned for other RUC widows and set up the lobby group Forgotten Families. However commendable, the exclusive nature of her contribution and close association with the RUC, brings into question McDougall's suitability as a representative for all victims, particularly those who suffered at the hands of the RUC.

Commenting on the appointment, Sinn Féin spokesperson Philip McGuigan said the majority of people in the nationalist community would not see the appointment of Bertha McDougall as neutral. "This appointment is being seen as a political appointment to appease unionists," said McGuigan.

"The challenge for the new Victims' Commissioner is for her to demonstrate she can be a champion for all victims. That includes victims who were members of the RUC but it also includes civilians who were murdered by the RUC.

"It will be for the Commissioner to show that she can empathise with victims, for example, of state killings. Bertha McDougall needs to be independent and be seen to be independent.

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, a group representing victims of unionist paramilitary and state violence, said the needs of all victims needs to be addressed adding there was understandable concern about the appointment of McDougall.

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