'Pay pension' to conflict victims
A special pension should be paid to those badly injured during the Northern Ireland conflict, the Victims' Commissioner has said.
Some lost limbs or were paralysed by paramilitary bombings and shootings which ruined their ability to earn a living and save for retirement.
Commissioner Kathryn Stone estimated up to 600 people could benefit and victims believe payments of up to £150 a week should be made.
"We want to ensure that group of people with serious physical injuries have some dignity in their later years and don't have to worry about having enough money to buy oil to heat their homes and to have proper care as they get older," Ms Stone said.
According to the WAVE Trauma Centre, the largest victims' group helping those injured or bereaved by the 30-year conflict, estimates of numbers injured range from 8,383 to 100,000.
A 2012 report for the charity noted deteriorating health and increased dependency due to the combination of ageing and limitations caused by injuries, some severe and traumatic and having long‐term effects on all aspects of their lives.
They included blast and gunshot damage, loss of limbs, and loss of hearing and vision. Some suffered embedded shrapnel injuries, which continue to cause pain and distress.
Alex Bunting, 60, is a former taxi driver who lost a leg after an IRA bomb exploded under his vehicle close to Belfast city centre in 1991. He said 500-600 people had suffered the worst and should be compensated.
"I was blown up, I could not carry on with the pension. I am living on £108 a week, which is absolutely unbelievable. I don't think it is fair that victims like me are put in this position," he said.
"We have no way of earning a pension."
He added these are victims with no limbs, blinded or paralysed, the most severe injuries.
"I am talking about people who have suffered the most in this society and are suffering every day and every hour of the week, morning, noon and night," he said.
"My life is hell and it is the same as the rest of the people in my position."
The WAVE report said injured people lacked access to emotional support, counselling, psychological treatment of trauma symptoms, family support, and care for carers. Problems such as drug and alcohol misuse and weight management issues have largely gone unaddressed.
Despite advances in pain management, injured people and service providers reported that it continues to be an unrecognised and under‐resourced service.
Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass failed to reach agreement on a settlement to issues unresolved from the conflict during cross-party talks in Belfast which ended on New Year's Eve. But he said there had been a wide measure of consensus that the plight of victims needed to be addressed.
A victims' service established by the Stormont department headed by Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), was recently criticised by users and major changes are planned.
The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) proposed that a regional trauma centre be established on the site of a former prison at the Maze near Belfast but no agreement has been reached.