There is a “blatant inequality” in terms of support and financial assistance from the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund for victims of the conflict.
That’s the considered view of Relatives For Justice (RFJ) support worker Mark Sykes. Mark has told the Andersonstown News that the independent charitable fund, which was established in 1999, will from April 2013 be discontinuing back-to-school grants, respite breaks, financial assistance and over-60s support, and will exclude siblings and grandchildren from applying for any financial assistance for educational courses.
“We at RFJ propose that some form of pressure must be applied to the office of OFMDFM [Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister] to reverse the criteria decisions and allow siblings and grandchildren to apply for financial assistance, especially in terms of educational courses,” he said. “The Memorial Fund has been completely decimated in terms of support for victims and survivors of the conflict and this needs urgently addressed.
“The Police Fund receives £1.8 million annually and the same officers that avail of this and their families can ‘double dip’ to the Memorial Fund and receive financial assistance for respite breaks and this includes siblings.
“Siblings that are currently meeting with the Historical Enquiries Team last year may have been able to avail of a respite break through the Memorial Fund – but aren’t even recognised this year. The Fund state that their logo is the forget-me-not flower – most families would disagree with that comparison.
“Over 5,000 applicants applied for support last year and it is our view that around a third are no longer entitled to support as a result of advice to OFMDFM from the Commissioners. This was done with little or no consultation with victims or survivors.”
Ciara Sullivan was four years old when her father, 34-year-old Francis ‘Barney’ Sullivan, was shot dead by the UDA at his Bombay Street home. Ciara explained how she has been receipt of financial assistance from the Memorial Fund for the past nine years, but as of this year she has yet to receive anything and her children, aged eight and 15, are not entitled to apply to the Fund for educational assistance.
“I received payments for different schemes that I could apply for and was eligible for, such as educational courses for employment, driving lessons, music lessons, anything where you could better yourself and your prospects,” she said. “I was able to get respite breaks on a yearly basis. There were also allowances for furniture and uniform grants for my two children.
“I reapplied this year, back at the beginning of June, and haven’t heard anything. There has been no correspondence or update for my application.
“I’m totally disappointed and the ordinary victims are not being looked after here. I feel very let down by the commissioners who are making these decisions and who aren’t looking after our needs at all. There should not be differences made between us and a former police officer.”
Eddie Maginn’s 17-year-old brother Gerald was murdered by the RUC in November 1991. He was the backseat passenger in a stolen car. The RUC said he opened fire on them and they fired back, but there was never any gun residue found in the car.
“My issue is with the Police Fund in that there is clearly a hierarchy of victims here,” said Eddie. “Their relatives are wrapped in cotton wool whereas ordinary relatives are cast to the wolves.”
Mark said that in 2011 Eddie would have been entitled to a number of educational courses and training, as siblings were then allowed to apply, but in 2012 that is no longer the case.
“Here at RFJ, where we deal with victims and their families who have been affected by the conflict and see and hear their needs, we would say again that the decision with regards to the Memorial Fund and its system needs revisited and looked at again as a matter of urgency.”