Victims support group could close

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

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THE headquarters in Rathfriland of a group that helps victims of the Troubles could close its doors due to lack of funding.
South Down Action for Healing Wounds (SDAHW) based on Downpatrick Street now faces an uncertain future after the group's funders refused to renew financial support.
The organisation almost entirely depends on funding from the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS) which has been its main funder for around nine years.
Group spokesman, Fran Gilmore said a funding application was refused a few years ago which resulted in the loss of a project co-ordinator and office worker.
He said: "This meant we were reduced to applying to the small grants scheme. Then two years ago we were refused our application. We appealed this decision and were allowed to submit a fresh application which was successful and meant we had to deliver our projects in a short space of time."
However, Mr Gilmore says SDAHW now faces a fresh funding dilemma as its most recent application has been refused twice.
The Rathfriland man, who has been on the board of the group for 10 years and a member of the certified charity for 15 years, says they are determined to carry on.
He said: "The VSS is under the control of the Office of First and Deputy First Minister in Stormont and this body is responsible for the allocation and distribution of funds to groups who provide support and assistance to those people adversely affected during Northern Ireland's violent past.
“Although we do feel that issues within the Assembly have had a knock-on effect to funding, this current decision was made before the Assembly fell."
Mr Gilmore says they have since applied to different sectors for grants and financial help and are awaiting their replies.
The Rathfriland-based group is continuing with their own fundraising efforts.
Meanwhile, VSS told The Outlook they were unable to comment on individual funding groups at this time.
Speaking recently, the chairman of VSS, Oliver Wilkinson, told Press Association he had received Stormont assurances that the annual 13m plus budget of the VSS would be maintained over the coming three years.
Established in 1999, SDAHW's main objective was to provide help and support to innocent victims of terrorist violence in the South Down area.
Mr Gilmore explained funds are used to deliver projects to help with social support such as arts and crafts, photography classes, needlework, basket making and health and well-being.
The group also delivers complimentary therapies and counselling, and produced a short booklet of some members telling their stories, which he says helped with truth, justice and acknowledgement.
Mr Gilmore said the victims' support group was founded at a time when people were being ignored and sidelined.
He continued: "This was while the perpetrators of violence were reaping the benefits of early release from prison and terrorist godfathers were being lauded on the world stage and elevated to positions of authority in the Stormont Assembly.
“The membership was drawn from both security force families and civilians, many of whom had experienced great loss and trauma in their lives.
“It was therefore the aim of SDAHW to help support these innocent victims of terrorism and also keep in remembrance those family members whose lives were tragically cut short by violence."
SDAHW received charitable status early on in its formation and is managed by an elected committee with chairperson, treasurer and secretary being the main office bearers.
Mr Gilmore continued: "For almost 20 years this group has been providing help and support in a safe environment for their membership.
“This was carried out by providing complimentary therapies and counselling, welfare advice signposting, social support which sometimes included occasional short respite breaks, and personal development."
The group members also made a memorial quilt which reflected their families' personal loss and experiences and recently held another thanksgiving and remembrance service.
Mr Gilmore insists that nothing has changed within the group since previous funding applications were made.
He added: "The membership remains the same as does the projected workload. The need is just as great as before.
“Surely as their name suggests 'Victims and Survivors Service' they have a duty of care towards those people who became victims whilst protecting our country from terrorist violence.
“This decision by VSS will have a massive impact on the ongoing support that has been previously provided by SDAHW."
Meanwhile, Mr Gilmore also slammed the Victims' Commissioner, Judith Thompson.
He said: "Despite several invitations, the very person charged with the care and protection of genuine victims has repeatedly failed to even pay the group a courtesy visit, never mind meeting with us for in-depth discussions about our members concerns."
He continued: "Yet she could make her way to Londonderry to the funeral of Martin McGuinness - a top commander and terror strategist of the very organisation that slaughtered our loved ones and for years did their utmost to bring our country to its knees.
“No doubt she would justify her actions by arguing that McGuinness was a 'victim' according to the obscene and immoral definition that we now operate under in this PC madhouse."


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