Belfast Telegraph

Disabled ex-terrorists may get £150-a-week pension

By Liam Clarke

Former terrorists who were themselves injured in the Troubles could be in line for a pension for victims, according to the DUP.

The party is considering measures that would pay a pension to a small number of disabled terrorists as well as victims who had no paramilitary involvement whatsoever.

People injured by their own hand during the Troubles will definitely be excluded from the pension plan but others are being considered, DUP spokesman Jeffrey Donaldson revealed.

The MP added that his party hoped to introduce a Private Member's Bill on the issue after the May 7 general election.

If all goes to plan, the likely pension will be from £100 to £150 a week. It is believed this will be given to 357 severely physically handicapped people.

Potential beneficiaries are mostly paralysed or missing one or more limbs.

Another 10 - six loyalists and four republicans - who would otherwise qualify for the pension caused their own injuries in the course of paramilitary activity.

Mr Donaldson explained: "Our default position is that anyone who was involved in terrorism should not get a pension for any injuries they sustained.

"However, a number of respondents have pointed out that in the course of the Troubles some people got convicted of crimes of violence but later turned their backs on terrorism and were then injured themselves. We have to consider that.

"There is no point asking for responses to these proposals and not taking them into account - but no decision has been made."

He confirmed that legal advice was also being taken.

The issue of how a victim is defined hit the courts in 2013 when it emerged that the family of a former member of the Real IRA who was shot dead by the organisation in a dispute would receive compensation.

The Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 defines a "victim or survivor" as "someone who is or has been physically or psychologically injured" as a result "of a conflict-related incident".

This definition takes no account of innocence, guilt or moral worth, and it might be difficult to draw clear lines in legislation.

One potential beneficiary of the pension is Peter Heathwood, a member of the WAVE Trauma organisation's 'injured group' which is led by Alan McBride whose wife died in the Shankill bombing.

The injured group includes three amputees - Jenny McNairn, Mary Kelly and Alex Bunting; two paraplegics - Peter Heathwood and Paul Gallagher; and Margaret Yeaman, who is blind.

This week they are meeting Sinn Fein victims spokeswoman Jennifer McCann to seek her support for the pension.

It is understood that Sinn Fein is reluctant to see former paramilitaries, even ones who received injuries by their own hand, excluded from payments. The party sees this as creating a hierarchy of victims.

On the other side of the argument, the DUP is instinctively opposed to making payments to anyone involved in violence at all, even if their involvement was years before they were injured.

Mr Heathwood and his colleagues will hand over a paper by Dr Luke Moffett of Queen's University's School of Law in which he makes a number of suggestions for tackling the issue.

Dr Moffett's document suggests that the payments should not be means-tested but that they should be graduated to take account of the severity of injuries. He also suggests a review panel to look at individual cases.

Intriguingly, he proposes that separate arrangements could be set up to make payments to those 10 contentious cases where injuries were caused by the individual themselves. He writes that a "private trust fund" could be set up to avoid "the Pension Bill leading to a 'terrorist' being handed a monthly government cheque".

"Such funds could come from private charitable donors, international organisations, or even prisoner groups to ensure that they 'look after their own'."

Mr Heathwood said: "I hope the two parties can work this out between them and from what I have seen they both want to help.

"To Sinn Fein I would say as a socialist organisation you should consider doing the greatest good for the greatest number of vulnerable people. Both Sinn Fein and DUP voters are bound to be affected by this."

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