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UDR veteran tells of despair at Troubles pension 'snub'

John Barton

A former UDR member who survived three attempts on his life has been left despondent after his impassioned plea over the failure to implement a victims' pension was ignored.

John Barton (90), who lives in Kesh, Co Fermanagh, said he had only received one response - from First Minister Arlene Foster - to a letter he also sent to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson and Prime Minister Boris Johnson more than six weeks ago.

MPs passed legislation last year to establish the payment scheme for people injured in the Troubles, but it has been stalled over disputes. It had been due to open in May.

There is disagreement over whether Westminster or Stormont should fund it, a failure to designate a department to administer it, and a lack of consensus over who should receive the payments.

After serving in the Ulster Special Constabulary in the 1960s, Mr Burton joined the UDR as a part-time member when it was formed as the Troubles escalated.

"I was the only son of five children and carried the responsibility to manage my family farm," he said.

"In 1970 I joined the UDR. On February 2, 1972 I was ambushed by the Provisional IRA in the farmyard. I was shot and seriously wounded but recovered and returned to my farm and continued as a part-time soldier."

A year later he survived a second IRA attempt on his life.

"I was less seriously injured but the gunmen turned their weapons on my family home. My father had been in hospital and when he heard of the attempt to murder me and my family, the shock killed him," he said.

"The reaction from the Government was to have my commanding officer summon me to a meeting where he told me I would be provided with protection only if I agreed to move out of my home. I was forced to decide to leave a farm which had been in my family for many generations so I could do what the Government refused to do, protect my family."

He said the effects of that decision still haunt his family.

"Two of my sons have since taken out loans to buy land as they were deprived of the opportunity to farm my land," he said.

"I know I can never get this back now, but it is a regret I will take with me to my grave.

"For being shot and seriously injured in 1972 I received £400 compensation. For being shot and injured in 1973 I received £700. For being forced to leave my home I received nothing.

"I was offered a full-time position in the UDR, and lacking alternative options, I accepted. Whilst on duty in Enniskillen on November 8, 1987, delivering to our UDR representatives a wreath to be laid at the war memorial, I was caught up in the bomb the Provisional IRA exploded at the cenotaph. I didn't even bother with a compensation claim.

"My wife and I are conscious that our days are limited. I may not live long enough to see if my country will fail me again."

A UK Government spokesperson said it will "respond soon" to Mr Barton.

"The Government has been clear that it will bring forward legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles which focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims, and ensures that Northern Ireland veterans are treated as fairly as those who served overseas. We are committed to making progress on this as quickly as possible."

Close

Alex Bunting; shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh; Jennifer McNern; Alan McBride, Paul Gallagher and Sandra Peake, chief executive officer at Wave Trauma Centre

Alex Bunting; shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh; Jennifer McNern; Alan McBride, Paul Gallagher and Sandra Peake, chief executive officer at Wave Trauma Centre

PA

Alex Bunting; shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh; Jennifer McNern; Alan McBride, Paul Gallagher and Sandra Peake, chief executive officer at Wave Trauma Centre

Meanwhile, shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh has met victims at the Wave Trauma Centre in Belfast on her first visit to Northern Ireland. She called on Mr Lewis and the Executive to end the "shameful delay" in the delivery of the pension.

"There is simply no excuse for this scheme not to be in operation," she said. "Another insulting delay in their long, brave battle for support is completely unacceptable."

Ms Haigh also met with Victims' Commissioner Ms Thompson, who voiced her own frustration with the delays to the pension.

"We will not falter in our efforts to make that final leap and we would ask our politicians to recognise that this is the last step in finally delivering tangible and meaningful truth, acknowledgement, justice and reparations for victims and survivors, allowing us to move forward to build a better future," she said.

Belfast Telegraph