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Executive faces legal action by victims' group over Troubles pension hold-up

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Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson

Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Campaigner Alan McBride

Campaigner Alan McBride

Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson

A man whose wife was killed in the Shankill bomb is prepared to take legal action against the Stormont Executive over the delay in the delivery of a victims' pension scheme.

It has been held up due to a stand-off between Belfast and London over who pays the estimated £100m cost.

The first stage in the potential legal action will begin today.

It will focus on the Executive's "failure to comply with legislation to provide payments for those severely injured through no fault of their own during the Troubles in Northern Ireland".

The Victims' Payment Scheme had been due to open for applications on May 29.

However, that won't now happen, and structures passed into law in January to administer the scheme have not been set up.

Alan McBride, coordinator of the WAVE trauma centre, who lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond Frizzell in the IRA's 1993 bombing of the family's fish shop, is behind the legal action. WAVE last night indicated that, depending on the Executive Office's response to a pre-action protocol letter asking for an explanation, a decision will be made whether or not to apply for a judicial review of the Executive's conduct.

Northern Ireland's Victims' Commissioner has accused the authorities of adding insult to the injury sustained by thousands of conflict survivors.

In a scathing critique of Downing Street and Stormont, Judith Thompson said victims had once again been allowed to slip down the list of priorities.

"So people who wore their injuries well and fought a long, hard fight to get some recognition and a standard of living now suddenly find their perception is that this is all slipping away from under their feet. It is incredibly cruel," she said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "This pension was a massive step forward for innocent victims. I have spoken with the Secretary of State and urged him to stand by the legislation passed in Westminster and fund the pension.

"It is unseemly that these deserving people are being let down due to the Government not releasing funding. The Northern Ireland Civil Service will administer the scheme, but Treasury needs to release funds for Northern Ireland to afford the pension."

Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon also called on the Treasury to finance the scheme. "Sinn Fein wants to see a pension in place and delivered to meet the needs of all victims," she said.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie branded the delay "a total disgrace". He said: "The handling of this has been shocking. We need to urgently hear from the Executive Office and the Northern Ireland Office. Victims deserve answers." SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: "It is disgraceful that posturing over who foots the bill is creating further delay and uncertainty for people who have already been forced to wait for far too long.

"This legislation was passed at Westminster with the support of local parties. Westminster therefore has a responsibility to supply the resources to deliver on the commitments the Government has made."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "It is a telling indication of how high innocent victims feature on the agenda of the Executive parties that this issue was not nailed down as part of the New Decade, New Approach deal. Money could be found for Irish language and Ulster-Scots legislation. Commitments could be made in relation to legacy proposals, which have received a cool reception to say the least from innocent victims.

"But when it came to delivery of the pension already promised there was, again, failure. That is shameful."

An Alliance spokesman said: "In particular, it must be recognised the UK Government has a responsibility with respect to funding this pension, given its commitments in January. It would be unacceptable if these payments were further frustrated or delayed, letting victims down again."

Belfast Telegraph