Minister challenged over benefits for injured paramilitaries
A Stormont minister has been challenged to exclude injured paramilitaries from welfare reform mitigation schemes.
TUV leader Jim Allister told Social Development minister Lord Morrow that to enable "terrorists with self-inflicted injuries" to access additional benefits was "obnoxious and obscene".
Under a £500 million package of Stormont-funded measures to support those losing out under UK Government welfare changes in Northern Ireland, individuals with conflict-related injuries are to be allocated extra points on the scale used to measure eligibility for new Personal Independence Payments.
Mr Allister told the Assembly that the proposal, which was forwarded by an independent panel chaired by professor Eileen Evason and endorsed by the Stormont Executive last month, could see injured paramilitaries securing preference over others in society. He said such individuals should be excluded.
"Will the Minister undertake to exempt from the regulations he brings those terrorists with self-inflicted injuries?," Mr Allister asked Lord Morrow during Assembly question time.
The DUP minister replied: "Let me say to the member that he may feel that he is the only person in Northern Ireland, and certainly, the only one in the House, who has any conscience on these issues.
"Let me say this - I suspect that, if you jag us brave and deep, you will find that my views are not much different from yours.
"However, I suspect the question has more to do with gaining some cheap political points than trying to deal with real issues. Unfortunately, as a Minister, I have to deal with real issues.
"I do not have the luxury of being critical of everything that comes across my desk. I wish sometimes that I did, but let me assure the member that, whether there are inadequacies, it is my intention to do everything in my power to ensure that those who are deserving of it, get it, and those who are not deserving of it, do not get it."
Mr Allister accused the minister of "obfuscation" when Lord Morrow stressed the mitigation measures did not originate from his department.
"Whatever the obfuscation about the genesis of the proposal, the fact is that it has been adopted by the Executive and the Minister, and it is he who will bring forward the regulations to implement it," he said.
"Is the Minister not ashamed that he intends to bring forward a proposal whereby a terrorist - a victim maker - who injured himself by his own hand in planting a bomb will possibly be in the position of benefiting from an extra four points in order to secure and maintain his benefits?
"If the Minister is not ashamed of that, he should be, because it is an obnoxious and obscene proposal."