Belfast Telegraph

New twist to Troubles pensions saga

Challenge: Alan McBride
Challenge: Alan McBride

By Noel McAdam

The long and sorry saga over the prospect of pensions for victims of the ‘Troubles’ has taken a new twist.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has decided against including the long-running sore in a public consultation he is planning for later this year.

The Wave Trauma Centre which met him this week said the SoS could decide to put the issue, affecting around 500 people, into his intended exercise which arises from the stalled Stormont negotiations to restore devolution.

The centre brought its group of people left severely injured - some of them now in their 80s - to meet a SoS face to face for the first time on Wednesday.

Mr Brokenshire and his officials insisted the pension issue is a “devolved matter” but Wave group co-ordinator Alan McBride argued afterwards: “I think the Secretary of State would be doing the DUP and Sinn Fein a massive favour if he was to include the pension proposal in the consultation.

“We recognise it is quite a toxic issue for the DUP if as they see it IRA members injured by their own hands are to be given pensions.

“By the same token Sinn Fein cannot say it will just leave those people behind, it would suffer then in terms of support from its own community.”

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Around 10 controversial individuals are holding up a resolution of the pensions which would cost around £3m a year.

Mr McBride, who lost his wife Sharon and father in law Desmond Frizzell in the IRA’s Shankill Road fish shop attack which killed ten people on October 23, 1993. said he had directly challenged Mr Brokenshire during their meeting.

“I would have thought it he wanted to he could take the necessary legal action to include the pensions issue in the consultation. Surely its a legacy matter more than a devolved matter,” he added.

The 500 people who form part of what Wave calls its ‘injured group’ were left so badly harmed that they were unable to work and could not build up pensions so some of them are now having to live on benefits.

“Since we set this group up, three of them have died and most of them are approaching middle age and old age. Some of them are facing destitution and the aim of our campaign is to see that they will be able to live with a bit of dignity and independence,” Mr McBride said.

The Wave Centre co-ordinator also added, however: “We are not giving up on this. We have people who are facing difficult lives and this is too important.”

A spokesman for Mr Brokenshire said he was “keen to listen to what they have to say and will reflect carefully before considering the next steps for taking forward the legacy consultation.”

But in relation to the pensions proposal, which has the backing of the Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson, the spokesman only responded: “It is a devolved issue.”

Compensation payments awarded in the 1970s and 1980s have been criticised as “derisory”.  Victims who have faced increasing financial difficulties because they have lived longer than expected included UDR widows who lost their husbands’ pensions after remarrying.

Former First Minister Arlene Foster and the late ex-Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had said prior to the collapse of Stormont they were considering a pension proposal.

The idea was left out of the so-called Fresh Start deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein almost two years ago, although a wider agreement a year earlier than that had pledged to attempt to find a way forward on the problem which was also mentioned a year earlier still in a report by American diplomat Richard Haass - all the way back to the Eames/ Bradley report soon a decade old.

Stalling, anyone ?

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