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Those who hurt others should not receive Troubles pension, NI Secretary's guidance says

Those who have a serious conviction for causing harm to others, or have a recent conviction for a terrorism offence, should not benefit from the Troubles pension scheme, according to guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

Brandon Lewis has published guidance to support an independent board in making decisions as to who can avail of the pension scheme for victims of the Troubles.

MPs passed legislation last year to establish the payment for people injured in the Troubles but the scheme had been significantly delayed over a Stormont dispute over whether former paramilitaries should be eligible.

The guidance states that it would be inappropriate to pay applicants who have a serious conviction for causing harm to others, or a recent conviction for a terrorism offence - whether the offence is serious or not.

Mr Lewis has also called on the Executive to urgently implement that pension scheme, particularly Sinn Fein.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have been at loggerheads over the definition of a victim.

There was also disagreement between Belfast and London over who should pay for the scheme.

The pension was originally due to be implemented at the end of May.

The independent board’s decisions will be taken on a case by case basis.

In the event that the board decides to award payments in such cases where someone has a serious conviction for an offence that caused harm to others, despite this guidance being engaged, the government reserves the ability to exercise a power of intervention.

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First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster said the publishing of the guidance was a "small step" along the road to victims receiving their pension.

The DUP leader said it was "right and proper" victim makers would not receive the pension.

"It would be wholly wrong for bombers to be awarded a pension," Mrs Foster said.

She accused deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill of blocking progress of the pension scheme.

"Whilst Sinn Fein Ministers in the Executive agreed to allocate a £2.5m to enable preparatory work to be done by the Executive Office, they have not agreed to the Department of Justice (DoJ) being designated as the department to drive forward and make the payments," the First Minister said.

"Four of the five Executive parties are agreed that DoJ is the appropriate department. It is time for Sinn Fein to make the needs of innocent victims, from all over the British Isles and of all political backgrounds, a priority and allow the pension to move forward.”

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the guidance was discriminatory and designed to protect and reward state forces.

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Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly at the party's Falls Road office in Belfast, reacting to Government guidance on administering victims' compensation payments. PA Photo. David Young/PA Wire

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly at the party's Falls Road office in Belfast, reacting to Government guidance on administering victims' compensation payments. PA Photo. David Young/PA Wire

PA

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly at the party's Falls Road office in Belfast, reacting to Government guidance on administering victims' compensation payments. PA Photo. David Young/PA Wire

He accused the Government of failing to engage with the Stormont parties on the issue and instead presenting a "fait accompli".

"This is entirely discriminatory, it's exclusionary, and it is there to protect British forces during the conflict, and actually to reward them, and to exclude as many republicans and nationalists as they possibly can," he said.

The MLA compared the move to the Government's decision to step away from legacy mechanisms agreed by the UK and Irish governments and Stormont parties in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

"Their intent here is not about reconciliation, it's not about moving the whole process forward," he said.

"It's about protecting states forces during this conflict and putting the blame on everybody else."

Mr Kelly said Sinn Fein did not want to see anyone excluded from the scheme, with the payments administered on the "basis of need".

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said that delays around the pension scheme had left victims "hurt and frustrated".

The former British Army captain said there could be no more excuses for delaying the scheme.

"It is up to The Executive Office to get on with nominating a lead Department that can put the scheme in place. Those who have been promised this payment should not have to wait another day longer," Mr Beattie said.

“Sinn Fein have danced on the head of a pin for long enough. There is no ambiguity left for them to hide behind. The guidance has been issued, failure to implement the scheme is a failure to support victims, they need to get on with it.”

Jim Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister called on the Northern Ireland Office to take action and move control of the pension scheme to Westminster.

"That alone will defuse the pernicious Sinn Fein veto," he said.

Mr Allister also called for the legal definition of a victim to be changed to reflect Mr Lewis' guidance.

"Only then, can any sort of level playing field exist for the innocent," the TUV leader said.

Commenting on the publication of the guidance, Mr Lewis said: “The moral and legal obligation to deliver this scheme for victims of the Troubles injured through no fault of their own is undeniable and I hope that the publication of today’s guidance will renew the focus and efforts of the Northern Ireland Executive to move forward to finally deliver for these victims.

“The political disagreements and delay of the last few years on this issue have gone on long enough.

“It is imperative that Sinn Fein now enable the scheme to move forward by agreeing with all the other parties and urgently designate a department to administer the scheme and get payments to those who will benefit most.”

Belfast Telegraph