Belfast Telegraph

People maimed in the Troubles need a pension, says man who’s spent nearly 40 years in a wheelchair... but always we’re just fobbed off

Peter Heathwood
Peter Heathwood
Peter's father Herbie
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

A Belfast father paralysed in a loyalist terrorist attack nearly 40 years ago has said that "living Troubles legacies" like him are being forgotten.

Peter Heathwood (65) said injured victims were "a footnote" in the Northern Ireland Office consultation on Addressing The Legacy Of Northern Ireland's Past, and that he and other victims will be pushing for a pension scheme to be set up to help them.

Peter was 26 when gunmen burst into his home and shot him through a door.

A bullet ripped through his arm, shattering several ribs and his spine, leaving him paraplegic.

His father Herbert (63), who had rushed to the scene from his home on the Ormeau Road, collapsed and died outside Peter's flat, thinking his son had been murdered.

The father-of-three said he will never forget that September night in 1979 when his life was destroyed.

"I heard the doorbell ring and then my wife Anne started screaming 'gunmen!'," he said.

"The gunman had my wife by the hair and she was struggling to get free. I got myself behind a big oak door.

"I was 6ft and 14 stone. I shoved the door at the gunman and he stumbled back into the hall, freeing Anne.

"I pulled her in, put my weight to the door and they fired through it. Everything happened in slow motion.

"I remember Anne putting her hand out to stop my head hitting the hearth as I fell.

"I remember asking her to tell my father I was okay before passing out.

"My father had angina. He rushed over to our flat. Because the room I was shot in was so tiny the ambulance crew couldn't get a gurney in there and had to use a body bag to transport me to the hospital.

"When my father saw me being taken out in the body bag, he said 'my poor Peter', and dropped dead."

The shooting left Peter paralysed in his lower body and he is confined to a wheelchair. He wasn't able to return to work as an insurance broker, and instead devoted himself to his late wife Anne - who suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder until her death at 51 - and their three children.

Now he is campaigning for a 'pension for the seriously injured' to be introduced.

"We, as injured people, seriously injured, whose lives will not get any better, who carry injuries of the Troubles, were seriously annoyed that we weren't considered in the consultation," he said.

"We are in there in question 15, which asks people of anything else they think should happen.

"We were all young people, going about our own business when our lives were destroyed forever. We weren't able to build up private pensions.

"The big thing for us is that injured people are being left behind. Okay, some of the HIU (Historical Investigations Unit) stuff isn't going to deal with the injured, but instead with people who died, and that's good. But at the same time we are living legacies of the Troubles.

"The pension for the seriously injured is about needs. People aren't going to get any better. I'm not going to walk again, someone who has lost their legs isn't going to grow legs, people who are blind will never see again. These are injuries that will never improve.

"Science will never be able to put us back together the way we once were. And we think that the state should look after us.

"It's not a unique thing we are asking for, it does exist in Europe.

"This pension is about independent living, about keeping us out of nursing homes as we head into old age. We don't think it's too much to ask. After all, are we not the people who so far have supported prisoners getting out? We just feel we haven't been taken care of and we would like to be taken care of going into old age."

Peter added: "It's a real fear for the future. It's about the practicalities of living, of staying alive.

"We are an afterthought for the Government.

"We realise that things have to be done with regards investigations, (but) we are very worried about where we are going to end up in the next 10 years.

"Are we all going to be stuck in a nursing home because we can't afford to live out of it?"

Peter says he and other survivors feel like they are "forgotten victims".

"The politicians pay lip service. When we have been to Stormont lobbying, we get a cup of tea and a pat on the head and we're told that they will do all they can," he added.

"But we go back year after year and it's still the same old mantra.

"Nothing is done while they fight among themselves.

"It's just ridiculous.

"We will just wait and see what happens when the consultation ends in September to see what the NIO comes up with.

"We want to know what is in it for those of us who are seriously injured.

"Will it be anything or will we be fobbed off again?

"It is mentioned under the Stormont House Agreement and Haass Talks reports. But they always say that work needs done, and that refers to the inability of Sinn Fein and the DUP to agree on the eligibility issue.

"The issue keeps being kicked down the road.

"If they kick it much longer we will all be dead.

"Some of us actually think that is what they want, for victims to die off and they won't have to listen to us anymore."

In response, a spokesperson for the UK Government said: "The consultation is about the proposed new institutions, set out in the Stormont House Agreement, and an opportunity for everyone to have their say.

"The Agreement proposed that the Executive should seek an acceptable way forward on a pension for injured victims.

"This is the Executive's responsibility, but the Secretary of State is deeply concerned that injured victims have waited too long for this work to be taken forward.

"In the absence of an Executive the Secretary of State has taken action and asked the Victims Commissioner to provide advice on a way forward on the proposal for a pension.

"This will allow the issues around a pension to be considered, as well as the issues proposed in the consultation."

Peter will be one of the guest speakers at a conference dealing with Post-Traumatic Growth, to be held at the Holywell Trust Building in Bishop Street, Derry, on September 17.

Belfast Telegraph


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