Decision will inflict ‘trauma’ on people, Donna-Marie McGillion has warned as SDLP branded DOJ move ‘inconceivable’
An Omagh bomb survivor has warned that handing the running of a Troubles pension scheme to Capita will inflict “trauma” on victims.
Donna-Marie McGillion has urged Justice Minister Naomi Long to rethink the decision given the sensitivities involved for victims and survivors.
She sustained life-threatening injuries in the Real IRA car bomb attack in Omagh on August 15, 1998 which killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured 220.
Mrs McGillion, who was in a coma for six weeks following the blast, was speaking out after it emerged the Department of Justice had hired the company to carry out medical assessments of victims under the scheme.
Last week the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) published a scathing report on Capita’s handling of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme.
It found that many benefit claims had been “unfairly rejected” amid “systemic maladministration”.
The Justice Minister’s decision to award the contract to Capita has been branded “inconceivable” by the SDLP.
Mrs McGillion has urged Mrs Long to review the decision.
“I am so, so disappointed in the decision at this stage,” she told the Stephen Nolan Show.
“First of all we went through this process and first of all Omagh wasn’t going to be be included in this victims’ pension.
“We actually had a consultation with some staff from the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) about this and one of the strangest things I keep trying to put across to them was that when an assessment was needed that it was terrible to actually send victims/survivors for more assessments.”
She revealed that when Omagh survivors like herself had engaged with the Department of Justice in relation to compensation for the 1998 atrocity, the experience had been “absolutely horrific”.
“I had to fight to stay alive but ever since then I’ve had to do nothing but fight – fight for this and fight for that,” she explained.
“I tried to talk to them and find a way of doing it without putting people physically in a room and physically assessing them.”
Donna-Marie continued: “Get the letters from the doctors, get the letters from their therapists… You’ve no idea the trauma this will cause, and how much this will bring people right back.”
Referring to her previous experience with the DoJ to get compensation, she added: “I had to sit in a room while barristers and solicitors – not qualified medical people – came in and had a look at my scars.
“This has been something that has been wrong from the start and this is something I tried to get through to them when I sat in an NIO office - to not put through any people through this anymore.”
Mark H Durkan, SDLP social justice spokesperson, insisted on Monday that the situation was unfathomable given the recent NIPSO findings.
“We heard from NIPSO about how Capita had rejected many legitimate benefit claims and this week we learn they have been awarded a further contract. It’s the stuff of nightmares,” Mr Durkan said.
“What confidence does the Minister have that the same thing won’t happen again?”
The Foyle MLA said public representatives know only too well the impact of Capita’s handling of assessments for PIP.
“As MLAs we all have busy constituency offices and have seen the result of Capita’s handling of PIP on members of the public and their families,” he said.
“We have heard countless stories of vulnerable people forced to go through degrading and humiliating assessments simply to avail of the funding they are entitled to.
“It is inconceivable that anyone who has first-hand knowledge of this suffering could then turn around and hand them a further contract involving Troubles victims.
He added: “Minister Long really must think again to ensure that Troubles victims are not subjected to the same bad experiences as others.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “Capita was appointed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Victims’ Payments Board through a public procurement process to design and deliver a service for determining the level of permanent disablement of applicants as a result of a Troubles-related incident.
“Medical assessments will be carried by a dedicated team within Capita and in line with detailed guidance produced by the Victims’ Payments Board.
“The assessment process for the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme is different to what is required for PIP claimants. However, consideration will be given to any learning from the NIPSO report.
“Arrangements will be in place to monitor Capita’s performance and there will also be opportunity for groups representing victims and survivors of the Troubles who will be supporting applicants to the scheme, to provide feedback on the assessment arrangements.”