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Guidelines on Troubles pension spark new row

Foster hails proposals, but SF slams them as one-sided

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Jennifer McNern

Jennifer McNern

Jennifer McNern

A fresh political row has broken out after the Government published proposals for implementing the long-awaited Troubles pension scheme.

The guidance released on Friday states that anyone convicted of causing atrocities should not be eligible.

Those with a recent terrorism conviction of any sort will also be unable to access the compensation.

Legislation for the pension scheme was approved by MPs last year in the absence of an Executive and was scheduled to open on May 29, but has since been delayed.

It will see those who were injured during the Troubles receive between £2,000 and £10,000 annually.

The proposals were published by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, and come amid an ongoing standoff over the implementation of the scheme to support those physically or psychologically injured during the Troubles.

The guidelines added that the Government can step in and overrule an independent board decision, which will judge payments on a case by case basis if it feels they have been breached.

First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the guidelines and said it would be "wholly wrong for bombers" to be award a pension, while Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly claimed that it was designed to "protect and reward state forces".

Sinn Fein has refused to proceed with implementation by failing to designate a Stormont department to administer the scheme.

The party believes the Government's approach could exclude thousands of injured republicans.

The Commission for Victims and Survivors said it would be taking legal advice on the impact of the guidance.

Aside from the eligibility row, the Government and Stormont Executive are at odds over who should fund the £100 million scheme.

Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill believe extra money is needed from the Treasury, but Westminster insists that Stormont should foot the bill.

The new guidelines automatically ruled out anyone injured in an act they were responsible for.

Under the scheme, any injured individuals with a serious conviction - those who were given a 30-month-plus prison sentence - must have their cases assessed by an independent adjudication board to decide whether they are eligible for the payment.

Even if the board sets aside this guidance and awards compensation, the Government said it reserved the right to intervene and veto it.

Mrs Foster believes the guidance was "another small step" towards innocent victims receiving a pension, and blamed Sinn Fein for the delay.

"The blockage remains that the Deputy First Minister has not agreed to designate the Department of Justice [DoJ] to process the pension," she said.

"Whilst Sinn Fein ministers in the Executive agreed to allocate a £2.5m to enable preparatory work to be done by the Executive Office, they have not agreed to the DoJ being designated as the department to drive forward and make the payments.

"Four of the five Executive parties are agreed that DoJ is the appropriate department.

"It is time for Sinn Fein to make the needs of innocent victims, from all over the British Isles and of all political backgrounds, a priority and allow the pension to move forward."

Mr Kelly slammed the guidelines.

He said: "This is entirely discriminatory, it's exclusionary, and it is there to protect British forces during the conflict, and actually to reward them, and to exclude as many republicans and nationalists as they possibly can.

"Their intent here is not about reconciliation, it's not about moving the whole process forward. It's about protecting state forces during this conflict and putting the blame on everybody else."

Mr Kelly also said Sinn Fein did not want to see anyone excluded from the scheme, with the payments administered on the "basis of need".

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said Sinn Fein has "danced on the head of a pin" for long enough and a failure to implement the scheme is a failure to support the victims.

Belfast Telegraph