Belfast Telegraph

UUP and Alliance MLAs in war of words over victims' watchdog

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie
Stephen Farry of Alliance
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

An Ulster Unionist has hit back after Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry accused Doug Beattie of "stirring the pot" and creating a "politically manufactured problem" over the Victims' Commissioner.

Judith Thompson angered many innocent victims of terrorism when she advised the Government that it should support a pension for all those severely injured during the Troubles, including former paramilitaries injured while carrying out attacks.

The Government has since stated that terrorists wouldn't receive the pension, and other victims have backed Ms Thompson's advice.

A row broke out on Saturday after Mr Farry tweeted that Ms Thompson retained the full confidence of his party. He was responding to a call from some victims' groups to clarify Alliance's position on the commissioner.

After being pressed by UUP justice spokesman Mr Beattie about whether Ms Thompson has lost the support of innocent victims, Mr Farry accused him of creating a "politically manufactured problem".

Later, Mr Beattie said: "If the Alliance Party support the beleaguered Victims' Commissioner and they see no issue in supporting the Commissioner's report that will allow perpetrators of terrorism, if injured by their own hand, an equivalent pension to the victims they created, that's a matter for them.

"What I cannot accept is being described as attempting to 'stir the pot' or that supporting victims, who have real confidence issues with the Commissioner, is creating a 'politically manufactured problem'.

"These are sneering and condescending comments from the Alliance Party's deputy leader, Stephen Farry MLA, that portray victims as a manipulated group incapable of thinking for themselves."

Mr Farry said Alliance was "not going down the road of wrecking either the Victims' Commission or Stormont House (Agreement) and leaving vacuums in their wake".

"The Victims' Commissioner provides important services for victims across the political spectrum. To create a political litmus test for this or any future commissioner around the definition of a victim is going to be counter-productive, and indeed destructive to the future of an impartial commission."

The Alliance deputy leader said the definition of a victim is "heavily contested" both politically and across victims' group.

"To ask the commissioner to make distinctions between victims is not particularly realistic. To accuse the commissioner of ignoring some victims is not accurate," he added.

"If that definition is changed by either Parliament or the NI Assembly then that of course creates a new context."

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