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'Difference between combatants and civilian victims... but they all deserve Troubles pension,' says Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald

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Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has acknowledged there is a difference between those that carried out murder and innocent victims, but said they should all be entitled to a Troubles pension.

"That's how we heal," she told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme, "that is how we move forward."

"I think it is hugely disappointing, in fact disgraceful - and we have said this to the Secretary of State and British Government - that they have deliberately contrived a scheme that is going to leave people who are very badly injured, grievously injured out for the simple reason that they were interned or served some time in prison."

Sinn Fein is refusing to nominate a department to administer the Troubles pension scheme which was to open to applications from the end of last month. There is also a disagreement over if London or Belfast should foot the projected £100million bill.

Under the current draft guidelines for the victims’ pension, ex-prisoners who have spent more than two-and-a-half years in jail could be excluded if there were no mitigating factors for the assessment panel – led by a High Court judge – to consider.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said it appeared there was a "major shift in position from Sinn Fein".

"However, time will tell if this is another case of vague commentary from Mary Lou McDonald that is later clarified to reinforce the hard-line Sinn Fein position," he said.

“She draws a distinction between ‘combatants’ and ‘civilians’ but time will tell what she actually means by this. There were plenty of civilians who were targeted as they were carrying out contracting work for the security services – in which bracket is she placing them?

“Mary Lou McDonald also did not row back on the position of Sinn Fein on the guidance which is what is holding up the pension. The fundamental point is that Sinn Fein are blocking injured victims from receiving the victims’ payment and that remains the case regardless of what Mary Lou McDonald may have said this morning.”

Ms McDonald acknowledged the "heart rendering" stories of those that are being denied a pension because of the delay in implementing the scheme.

"I want and we want all of those victims the dignity and support they deserve. We want a scheme that is even handed, that is equitable and that is inclusive," she said.

"We do not want a type of scheme that the British government have come up with, by the way, with no consultation with the Executive or the parties to the Executive.

"We had managed betwen unionism, nationalism and republicanism to agree [in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement] the mechanism we would deal with the legacy as it is called with the past and we would do our best to give comfort and easement to victims .. and that needs to happen."

Asked if someone who had set out to murder should be entitled to a pension she there was a "clear distinction obviously between combatants and civilian victims".

However, she said they should be included in the scheme.

She said it was "entirely inappropriate and wrong" for those people to be excluded claiming it would "leave thousands of people behind".

"It is not a niche, small number of people," she added.

"This could be easily sorted out to change the eligibility criteria in the guidance that is within the gift of the British Government and then there is the issue of payment. Because it has to be properly resourced."

She added: "What we will not support is a scheme that is very deliberately and rather crudely designed to be partisan and to be partial and to make judgments as to who was right and who was wrong in terms of the combatant groups in the conflict."

She reiterated her comments that the IRA campaigned was "not just justified but inevitable" from a Sunday Independent interview and on her comments days later the IRA murder of Private Patrick Kelly - the only Irish soldier killed in the conflict was "wrong". She said she had no difficulty in describing the father-of-four's killing as murder.

"Where you have a position of complete inequality and injustice, conflict follows. Irish history tells us that and by the way I did not write the history books," she said.

"But that should not be mistaken for me having a cavalier or disinterested view around anybody who was hurt. I wish nobody was hurt. I wish nobody lost their lives."

She added: "The is important I think is we recognise there are multiple narratives. Not everybody is going to agree as to why the Troubles started, who was right, who was wrong.

"What we can I hope all agree on is that conflict is over, the war is over, we have a robust peace process and we need to recognise and support people who are hurt and injured and that victims' payment is an essential component of that and it has to be even-handed and it can not be exclusionary. That is the core point."

She said more needed to be done to help victims.

"We all need to be active, to the best of our ability. Unfortunately we can not undo history, that is just a reality but doing everything we can to ensure we underpin the peace, with real justice, with recognition for victims to the very best of our ability bring comfort and some solace to those victims.

"For some that will mean court processes, it will mean seeking prosecutions into those mechanisms, for others it will simply be giving the facts and giving the information

"Stormont House gives us the tools to do all of that.

"Now the job for us in political leadership is for us to deliver on that fairly, respectfully and equitably."

Belfast Telegraph