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Human rights group calls for clarity around exclusion of terrorists from Troubles pension

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Secretary of State Julian Smith

Secretary of State Julian Smith

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Secretary of State Julian Smith

Advocacy group Ulster Human Rights Watch has called for clarity on the extent to which terrorists will be excluded from a new annual payment scheme to provide financial support to victims of the Troubles.

The new Troubles pension was signed into legislation by Secretary of State Julian Smith on January 31 and will amount to payments of thousands of pounds to victims injured "through no fault of their own" during the conflict.

The Lurgan-based group Ulster Human Rights Watch said the legislation was "long overdue" - but said the extent of the exclusion of terrorists on the basis of a relevant conviction or exceptional circumstances remains unclear.

Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Manager Axel Schmidt said the group will continue to pressure the government for clarity on the scheme.

On Friday, Julian Smith said of the new scheme: "It will not apply to those who were injured due to their own actions or who committed serious criminal offences."

Ulster Human Rights Watch has advised victims to get in touch with the Lurgan-based advocacy service to prepare applications to the scheme, which has the potential to award annual payments ranging from £2,000 to £10,000.

On BBC's Good Morning Ulster on Monday, Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said face-to-face assessments "must be handled sensitively".

An independent judge-led board is to decide on who will qualify for the new scheme, which can also be transferred to carers on death of the injured person.

Judith Thompson said most people will be assessed based on their medical records.

"For paper-based assessment the principle is there in this legislation," she said.

"If you have medical records going back for decades - whether those are of psychological or physical injury - then the panel will attempt to make a decision on your injuries based on those."

"It is going to give a better life to people, many of whom have been stuck in a vacuum for decades with the disagreement around this."

Speaking on Monday, Mr Schimdt said: "It is clear that the Government heeded the voice of victims of terrorism in drawing up this scheme since it would have been a monstrous piece of legislation if bombers or gunmen had been included.

"We particularly welcome the decision by the Government to increase the number of injured people who will qualify in order to benefit spouses and carers who look after seriously injured individuals.

"However, the scope of the exclusion of perpetrators on the grounds of a relevant conviction or exceptional circumstances, which makes entitlement to victims’ payments inappropriate, remains unclear," he said.

“For this reason we have to take at face value the assurance that only innocent victims will benefit. Ulster Human Rights Watch will be carefully monitoring the operation of the scheme to ensure that this commitment is fulfilled."

Belfast Telegraph