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UK officials like 'slippery eels' over Libya payments

By Richard Wheeler

Published 14/09/2016

Proposal: Ian Paisley
Proposal: Ian Paisley

British officials have been likened to a bucket of "slippery eels" over their repeated failures to guarantee compensation for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA attacks.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Jr insisted it is "impossible" to get a straight answer from Whitehall as he warned many victims need answers and a settlement before they die.

He urged ministers to "take a risk for peace" by agreeing to use British cash to compensate families and victims, knowing around £9.5bn of Libyan assets are currently frozen in the UK.

Under Mr Paisley's proposal, the UK Government would then reclaim its money when a new government of national unity in Libya is fully established - by the two parties coming to an agreement over how much of the seized assets are returned.

The regime of former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi supplied Semtex explosive and other weapons to the IRA, with attacks including the 1996 London Docklands bombing.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate, North Antrim MP Mr Paisley Jr said he appreciated there are difficulties in dealing with the Libyan government given the circumstances there.

But he added: "Can I also put on the record there has been difficulties dealing with successive governments of Her Majesty.

"I don't know if you've ever tried to fish eels from a bucket of water, but it's an incredibly difficult task, and trying to get your hands on some people in the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and getting your hands on the Government to give a straight answer, successive governments to give a straight answer, to many of the issues that victims genuinely put on the table.

"It's like putting your hand into that bucket and trying to catch a slippery eel. It's practically impossible to get straight answers and I think the purpose of today's debate starts to get to the point where victims have waited long enough for answers.

"They are sick and tired of the dilly-dallying and the delays. Many of them are coming to - let's face it - the latter years of their lives and they need answers before they pass the immortal tide, and I think we need to face up to that and face up to it pretty darn fast."

Mr Paisley Jr said "life-changing injuries require life-changing levels of compensation" before he suggested that the UK put forward the cash before claiming it back from Libya at a later date.

Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: "Until Libya has a government we can work with, we are simply not able to consider what to do with the frozen assets - we are simply not able to have those conversations."

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