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IRA victims boosted by Theresa Villiers' pension plan

By Nevin Farrell

IRA victims in Britain are hopeful there could be a U-turn in their battle to be included in a controversial Troubles pensions deal after an intervention by the Northern Ireland Secretary.

They were originally left out of the scheme, but now Theresa Villiers is fighting to change that and is to hold talks with the Cabinet to call for the deal to be extended across the UK.

In recent days, Ms Villiers met MPs drafting the Victims' Pension Bill. She is also due to meet Justice Secretary Michael Gove before parliament goes into recess.

Gemma Berezag, whose husband Zaoui suffered brain damage in the IRA's 1996 bombing of London's Docklands in which two people were killed and 39 were injured, welcomed the move.

"We are starting to move in the right direction, but I hope the Northern Ireland Secretary keeps up the pressure," she said.

"We need help because it is so expensive to provide adequate care for Zaoui, and it's a struggle on what we get at the moment."

A Bill is being prepared to give a pension to around 400 of those most seriously injured in the Troubles. That does not include Britain because the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot pass legislation for other parts of the UK.

The planned scheme is controversial because it does not exclude terrorists - and 10 former paramilitaries are thought to qualify for the benefits.

Ms Berezag has written to Prime Minister David Cameron, asking him to intervene.

She previously said: "When I hear terrorists may be among hundreds receiving pensions, I am furious. They are nothing but killers, so why should they get this pension when we will not get a penny? We have gone through as much as victims in Ulster."

A pension for the most seriously injured victims of the Troubles was a key point of the Stormont House Agreement. The DUP had originally backed the pension, which could see victims 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 bad enough.

It is believed six ex-loyalist and four ex-republican terrorists qualify.

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