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Pensions for IRA - but not for IRA's victims: New bill will exclude those maimed in bombing campaign in Britain

Canary Wharf victim's wife fury at plans to exclude maimed in Britain from pensions

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 15/06/2015

Bombing victim Zaoui Berezag at home with his wife Gemma
Bombing victim Zaoui Berezag at home with his wife Gemma
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Excluding people horribly maimed by IRA bombs in Britain from a special pension scheme would be immoral, victims have claimed.

Anger is mounting over proposals to provide retirement benefits to 400 victims left unable to work because of the Troubles. The Victims' Pension Bill could allow 10 paramilitaries to cash in.

Yet it has now emerged that it would exclude those hurt in attacks outside Northern Ireland, such as the Canary Wharf bombing, which killed two people and injured 39 others.

Among the most seriously injured was Zaoui Berezag, who was left blind, paralysed, brain-damaged and with only one leg after the 1996 attack in the heart of London's Docklands.

His wife Gemma has written to Prime Minister David Cameron begging him to intervene.

"When I hear that terrorists may be among hundreds of people receiving pensions, I am furious," she said. "They are nothing but killers, so why should they get this pension when we won't get a penny? We've gone through as much as victims in Ulster and deserve help."

Last night a survivor pulled from the wreckage of the blast branded the proposals inconceivable and immoral.

Jonathan Ganesh told the Belfast Telegraph: "There would have been no victims without the terrorists.

"To actually say to these people now that we're going to issue you with a pension, and ignore the suffering of the mainland UK, and refuse them a pension, would be inconceivable, preposterous and immoral in any civilised society."

A special pension for the most seriously injured victims of the Troubles was a key point of the Stormont House Agreement. It is thought about 400 people in Northern Ireland live with permanent disabilities. Because they could not return to work through their injuries, they have not built up work-based pension savings.

The DUP is proposing a special pension which could see them qualify for up to £150 a week.

Because current victims' legislation does not judge how someone became injured, former paramilitaries could qualify if their injuries are serious enough.

It is believed the loophole could allow six loyalist and four republican terrorists to cash in.

Yet because the victims' legislation does not apply to people outside Northern Ireland, people like Mr Berezag will not qualify.

Mr Berezag was covering his wife's shift as a cleaning supervisor at a banking HQ when the truck bomb detonated on February 9, 1996, marking the end of the 18-month IRA ceasefire.

His wife said: "He can no longer wash, cook or even go to the toilet by himself. I care for him round the clock.

Zaoui (75) suffered a heart attack last year and also lost his left leg to diabetes but his family receive no additional disability benefits. Instead they struggle to cope on £1,500 a month, including his state pension.

His wife told the Sunday Express: "It isn't enough to cover mortgage payments, utility bills, food and adequate care for my husband."

Mr Ganesh said the proposals as they stood were fundamentally flawed. "You are trying to reward the perpetrators of a very serious crime at the expense of their poor victims," he added.

"Zaoui Berezag is not an isolated case. There are countless people throughout the United Kingdom - in London, Manchester, Warrington - who desperately need help."

He urged paramilitaries deemed eligible not to accept a pension.

"I would hope the terrorists on both sides would search their consciences and refuse to accept a pension in memory of all the people killed and injured as a result of their terrorist activity," he added.

Victims campaigner Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA in 1984, called for the pension to cover victims in Britain. "Their needs are just the same as those who were in Northern Ireland," she said. "I do not agree with terrorists getting a pension.

"The compassionate part of me says do not abandon them, they should be supported through the welfare state, but this is a special payment and as such it should only go to innocent victims."

The DUP, which drew up plans for the pension, does not want money going to terrorists and is discussing ways of expanding the scheme to cover victims in Britain. Sinn Fein said it would not support the proposals if former paramilitaries are to be excluded.

Former Sinn Fein councillor Brendan Curran, both a convicted IRA bomber and terrorist victim, said: "Any pension deal has to apply evenly and fairly to everyone. I was involved in the conflict but I didn't cause it, the conflict came to me."

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