Belfast Telegraph

Victims' campaigner Alan McBride 'disgusted' by Troubles pension debate

Alan McBride
Alan McBride

Leading victims' campaigner Alan McBride has said he is "disgusted" by the "toxic debate" surrounding the pension for injured victims of the Troubles.

Last week Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson said that a small number of those injured while carrying out attacks will be eligible for the pension payments, leading to a backlash from some victims and politicians, with several victims' groups calling for Ms Thompson's resigniton.

Michelle Williamson (52), who was orphaned after her dad George and mum Gillian were killed in the IRA blast at Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road in 1993, has started a petition urging the government not to pay pensions to injured terrorists.

Mr McBride, who lost his wife Sharon in the Shankill bomb, said he was "fed up" by how often Shankill bomber Sean Kelly comes up in the debate.

Posting on Facebook, he said: "Kelly will not be included in this pension, not because of Michelle Williamson’s petition, (and I am not criticising Michelle for organising that), but because those who injured themselves were never going to be included, not ever.

"There is no international precedent for it. No government, anywhere in the world, has awarded a pension to people who planted bombs and murdered people. The British Government and the NI Assembly were never going to pass legislation on it.

"Secondly, even if they were to be included and I have already pointed out they were never going to be, the simple fact of the matter is that Sean Kelly is not injured enough. The injured pension will only be awarded to the most seriously injured, and Kelly is not amongst them."

The aftermath of the Shankill bombing

Mr McBride, who works with Wave Trauma Centre, said the Shankill bomb is being used to "score points in a very toxic debate".

"So could I appeal to those who are continuing this debate. To stop making it toxic. I believe it is a good news story for once, so please concentrate on those whose lives will be made better by the pension and not the small number, who, because of their own actions, will fail to qualify.

"People like Jennifer McNern and Margaret Yeaman. Jennifer lost her legs in the Abercorn Bomb and Margaret was blinded in a bomb in Banbridge. Together they have become the symbol for the pension campaign as Margaret pushes Jennifer in her wheelchair.

"People like Peter Heathwood, and Paul Gallagher both paralysed in incidents when they were very young men, Peters father also died of a heart attack as he thought Peter was dead.

"People, Mary Hannon Fletcher, who was shot and left for dead as she left a picture house with her boyfriend.

"Let’s get behind people like this and ensure the pension becomes a reality."

Sean Kelly Attends A commemoration for Shankill bomber Thomas Begley which took place at Milltown cemetery. Pic Pacemaker

It is understood the number of perpetrators who would be eligible for the pension is fewer than 10 people.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland minister John Penrose told MPs there is "no moral equivalence" between by-standers injured by bombs during the Troubles and the those who placed bombs and were subsequently injured.

Responding to an urgent question in the Commons on pensions for victims of the Troubles, Mr Penrose told MPs that any funds made available will only go to members of the public, rather than those involved in orchestrating terrorist acts.

Mr Penrose added: "I am happy to confirm that it remains the Government's position that while it is right and proper to provide a pension for victims of Troubles-related terrorism incidents this should not become a pension for terrorists.

"There is no moral equivalence between a by-stander badly injured in a terrorist explosion through no fault of their own and the people who manufactured the bomb, placed the bomb and detonated the bomb."

MPs last week debated a Bill which will introduce a pension for victims injured during the Troubles that will come into effect by next May, subject to the Stormont Assembly not being reconvened by October 21.

DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly welcomed the statement from the government following her urgent question on the matter in the House of Commons.

“The current legal definition which equates victim-makers with their innocent victims is a moral corruption at the heart of victims issues in Northern Ireland," she said.

DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly

"It is again in the spotlight in relation to progress on the much-needed special pension for those severely injured during the Troubles. 

"It is an issue that causes a great deal of hurt amongst victims, demonstrated most clearly through the members of 14 separate victims organisations stating they cannot have confidence in the Victims Commissioner if she pursues the payment of a victims pension which would include perpetrators.

"I am pleased that this Urgent Question was brought to the floor of the House of Commons, because it allowed the Government to give a clear reassurance to victims."

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