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Victims’ groups gives Troubles pensions plan ‘cautious welcome’

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Parameters: Kenny Donaldson

Parameters: Kenny Donaldson

Parameters: Kenny Donaldson

Victims' campaigners have given a cautious welcome to newly published regulations for a pension for those severely injured during the Troubles.

The scheme, announced yesterday, will be open to applicants injured between 1966 and 2010.

However, those injured in an incident they were convicted of playing a part in will not be eligible - a shift from the definition of a victim in the Victims and Survivors Order of 2006. It included anyone who has been "physically or psychologically injured as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident", but made no reference to an individual's culpability.

Yesterday's announcement sparked conflicting reactions.

First Minister Arlene Foster hailed the scheme as "a massive and welcome step forward", but campaign group Relatives for Justice said the proposals "raise significant and very serious concerns".

Secretary of State Julian Smith confirmed the scheme will be opened from May.

Anyone who receives a payment must have been injured through no fault of their own, with pensions to range between £2,000 and £10,000 per year.

It will cover incidents from January 1, 1966 to April 2010 - though injuries sustained outside this timeframe may be considered. The extension to 2010 means victims of the Omagh bombing will automatically be eligible to apply.

The committee will also be able to exclude individuals where a payment is 'not deemed to be in the public interest'.

Mrs Foster said: "This is a massive and welcome step forward for the innocent victims of our Troubles.

"It is particularly welcome that this pension will only be for those who were injured through no fault of their own. It was immoral that the 2006 Order categorised innocent victims alongside the perpetrators of acts of terror.

"This pension will be awarded to people of all faiths and none but it will not be awarded to victim makers. That will be welcomed by many across all communities."

Spokesman for Innocent Victims United Kenny Donaldson said he "cautiously welcomed" the developments.

"The decision to extend the parameters of the scheme to 2010, when policing and justice were devolved to this region, and the presence of further scope to examine cases beyond this point on their individual merits is a welcome step," he said.

"We also very much welcome the appointment of a discretionary committee, to be led by a judge or retired judge, which will have the power to exclude applicants with unspent convictions and individuals where a payment isn't deemed to be in the public interest. This is a crucial issue and augments the 'through no fault of their own' criteria.

"Where we have concerns today is that those victims and survivors who are not UK citizens but who were impacted by The Northern Ireland Troubles, particularly Irish citizens impacted by events perpetrated in the Republic of Ireland will be excluded."

Andree Murphy from Relatives for Justice said that while it would be progress to "at last see some sort of recognition", there remained "significant gaps".

"Our organisation supports a payment scheme for the injured," she said. "It is long since past time that the injured of the conflict were afforded the dignity of acknowledgement and support.

"This should have been a positive day. However, instead, these regulations hold the potential for the creation of significant harm to many victims and survivors.

"The British Government has used this legislation to promote their own partial narrative of the past and run a coach and horses through the 2006 Order's definition of victims, a definition which has served our divided society well to date. This Bill shamefully introduces a hierarchy of victimhood.

"This will send a shiver down the spine of many who appreciate the complexity and contested nature of our conflict."

Wave Trauma Centre chief executive Sandra Peake said they will want to look closely at the details of the scheme.

"To see legislation being enacted at Westminster is testament to the tenacity and resilience of the group who have been fighting an often lonely campaign on behalf of those who have been marginalised for too long," she said.

"No doubt there will be aspects that we and others would want done differently, but for the first time the Government has acknowledged the plight of the severely injured in a way that will make a real difference."

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