Belfast Telegraph

Alan McBride: Let's stop this toxic debate now and get behind the pension for those injured

Alan McBride
Alan McBride

By Alan McBride

The Wave Injured Group have been lobbying for a special pension for those injured in the Troubles for the past eight years. To have it finally passed by MPs last week was a truly watershed moment.

What the NI Assembly couldn't do, MPs at Westminster delivered when they accepted Lord Hain's amendment to the bill, that only those injured "through no fault of their own would be included".

This should now be the end of the matter, allowing the drafters to put in place legislation that will make a big difference to lives of 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.

Also, people like Peter Heathwood, Mary Hannon-Fletcher and Paul Gallagher, each paralysed in separate shootings when they were in their 20s. Peter's father also died of a heart attack at the scene when he thought Peter was dead.

These people are overdue the pension but are increasingly frustrated by some in the media, politicians and others who thwart progress by getting embroiled in discussions that stir up tensions and do nothing to aid the healing process or deliver the pension. Take the Shankill Bomber Sean Kelly as a case in point. Kelly is perhaps the most infamous bomber in the country with the case continually cited, yet he was never going to be awarded a pension, so why bring it up? 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 Government would never pass legislation to bring this about and the NI Assembly would never get cross-party approval for it. But even if they did, 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.

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So could I appeal to those who are continuing this debate in public to stop making it toxic by throwing into the mix people like Sean Kelly. This only serves to annoy his victims but adds nothing to the discussion.

Can I also appeal to those who would seek to take advantage of the situation by abusing it to bring about change to the definition of a victim as set out in the 2006 order. WAVE supports this definition precisely because of the reason it was brought into being in the first place. That was to ensure that everyone impacted by the violence, regardless of background, or political persuasion, had access to services.

This was as it should be, as the focus at the time was to aid healing in the aftermath of violent conflict. Victims and perpetrators were both entitled to support and many thousands have been helped and I believe our society is all the better for it.

But - the pension is not a service! First and foremost it is a recognition payment. Recognition that harm was caused and an attempt by the British Government to bring about some measure of acknowledgment and redress in the shape of financial recompense.

Rather than get involved in meaningless toxic debates let us get behind the injured and make sure that the pension is a good news story.

God knows, it's long overdue.

Alan McBride is co-ordinator of the WAVE Injured Group

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