Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Special Report


Response from the Northern Ireland Office

Paragraph 40

We recommend that the Government . . . take steps to ensure that information on the support services available to those forced from their homes is made widely available to bodies likely to come into contact with such people, and that these bodies are encouraged to be pro-active in passing it on.

The Northern Ireland Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux (NIACAB) produces guidance for its officers entitled "Advising clients who have been intimidated". This cross-refers frequently throughout to other supplementary material, and includes a section on rehousing. The paper is available electronically and we are discussing with the national organisation (NACAB) having all or part of it made available, as appropriate, throughout Great Britain. NACAB are open to any suggestions we might make on ensuring their material is as comprehensive as possible and we are checking it for any apparent gaps.

In addition, we will be recommending to NACAB that they stress to their staff that, in some of these cases, the person(s) concerned would have had to leave abruptly and will arrive disorientated and quite possibly traumatised. Sensitive handling and awareness of dealing with victims of trauma would therefore be important.

At national level, NACAB draw on two very substantial volumes of guidance - "Homelessness: the client's rights" and "Allocation of housing accommodation: homelessness". These are guidance on homelessness and housing law. Local Bureaux also have both general and local information about the education system, employment or, in its absence, benefits, and local medical services. In many Bureaux, staff are competent to represent clients where they should be considered a priority case, and in any ensuing appeals, if necessary.

Paragraphs 39 & 56

¼ we consider that there is a case for a more formal system of co-ordination in Great Britain of assistance to those forced to move there from Northern Ireland.

We recommend that the Government take steps to establish a focal point with responsibility for co-ordinating both the development of policy in this area and the activities of government departments and agencies, local government and other bodies, including statutory bodies and voluntary associations.

Government policy in this area has been to encourage people to liaise with the police in a bid to make them more secure within their own community or, if they have been obliged to move, to work towards their re-integration. This is because there is a tension between the Government's desire to help those genuinely in need and, by so doing, actually furthering the objectives of those trying to force them from their homes. Formalising the development of policy and the co-ordination of support activities, as the Committee advocates, would risk sending a signal to paramilitaries that, by working to alleviate the consequences of their actions, the Government was tacitly allowing them to continue with impunity.

The Government is satisfied that the support necessary for victims of intimidation resettling in Great Britain is in place, but that the Committee is right to highlight the need for clear information to be available locally on how to gain access to that support. Citizens' Advice Bureaux appear to fulfil that function very satisfactorily: we will continue to study their guidance and, if it is considered that supplementary material or tailoring specific to the needs of victims of intimidation is necessary, we will pursue that with them in the expectation of a positive response.

4 December 2001

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Prepared 17 December 2001