Belfast Telegraph

Minister vows no pension for terrorists amid calls for victims' chief to quit

Clockwise from main: Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson
Clockwise from main: Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson
DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly
Shankill bomber Sean Kelly
Sharon McBride

By Gillian Halliday

A Government pledge that terrorists will not be allowed to avail of a victims' Troubles pension has been welcomed.

Yesterday, Northern Ireland Minister John Penrose MP said that it should not become a pension for terrorists.

He was speaking in response to an urgent question tabled by DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly in the House of Commons, in which she demanded clarity on the controversy.

The debate was sparked after proposals for a pension for those injured in the Troubles published by Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson resulted in a huge backlash from some who argued the plan equated victims with perpetrators of violence.

However, Mr Penrose was unambiguous in outlining the Government's position.

He said: "It remains the Government's position that while it is right and proper to provide a pension for victims of Troubles-related terrorist incidents, this should not become a pension for terrorists.

"There is no moral equivalence between a bystander badly injured in a terrorist explosion through no fault of their own, and the people who manufactured the bomb, placed the bomb, and detonated the bomb."

The pension is set to come into effect by next May, subject to the Assembly not being reconvened by October 21.

Last night Michele Nixon, who helps care for her brother Grant Weir - a former soldier who was left brain-damaged by an IRA bomb in Fermanagh in 1979 - said she was "delighted" that "real victims" have been listened to.

"This has been a very emotional week for us all... and we are delighted to have played even a small role. It's been worth it if what the Government is saying is true and that the victims, the real victims, will get something while the perpetrators will not.

"We hope this news will make a big difference to hundreds of families across Northern Ireland and it has been a long time coming," she said.

Mrs Little-Pengelly also welcomed the Government's commitment, insisting that she has "no doubt" that it will be welcomed by victims.

"Those who suffered so grievously during the Troubles are getting older and their needs continue and grow," she said.

The South Belfast MP insisted, however, that she was still calling for changes to the legal definition of victim as established by the 2006 Victims and Survivors Order.

"The current legal definition which equates victim-makers with their innocent victims is a moral corruption at the heart of victims issues in Northern Ireland," she said.

Mrs Little Pengelly - who outlined her opposition to a pension that would benefit perpetrators in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph - said the controversy has reignited the debate on a definition. "It is an issue that causes a great deal of hurt amongst victims," she said.

The development came as a prominent victims' campaigner, whose wife was killed in the IRA Shankill bombing, said the pension issue had descended into a "misinformed and toxic debate", which as a result, was overshadowing those who need it the most.

Alan McBride, who is co-ordinator of the WAVE Trauma Centre, lost his first wife Sharon and his father-in-law Desmond Frizzell in the 1993 atrocity.

He said yesterday that the issue had been "whipped up to high hysteria", and that some misinformation was clouding the matter.

Sean Kelly, one of the Shankill bombers who was left with injuries when his bomb detonated prematurely, was wrongly being used as an example as someone who could avail of the pension, said Mr McBride.

"People throw names like Sean Kelly into the mix. Sean Kelly will not be getting this pension. There's not a hope in hell that he will be getting it," he said.

The campaigner pointed out that MPs had previously set out that any pension eligibility criteria would abide with the "through no fault of their own principle".

"I don't think it's (been) an informed debate. People are just whipping people up into hysteria," said Mr McBride.

He said the controversy had been unhelpful to victims.

"These people are overdue the pension, but are increasingly frustrated by some in the media, politicians and others, who thwart progress by getting embroiled in discussions that stir up tensions and do nothing to aid the healing process or deliver the pension," he continued.

Meanwhile, Victims Commissioner Mrs Thompson was facing mounting pressure to resign as a campaign against her Troubles' pension proposals gathered momentum.

Yesterday more Troubles' survivors, along with the Orange Order and TUV leader Jim Allister, threw their support behind an open letter signed by 14 victims' groups in which they stated they had neither "confidence or trust" in Judith Thompson.

The letter, published by the News Letter, was signed by groups such as the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) and the Independent Victims and Survivors Coalition.

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United welcomed the Government commitment, but said the call for Mrs Thompson's resignation stood.

However, Mrs Thompson reiterated that she would not be stepping down, adding "it is not in the gift of the Commission to change legislation" on the definition of a victim.

"It is my duty to represent those people who are living on benefits and need this pension to achieve a reasonable standard of life in their advancing years."

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