UK

Troubles victims’ pensions: Committee to decide who qualifies

Victim's wheelchair
Image caption Payments will depend on severity of injuries

A judge will chair a committee which will decide which individuals should be excluded from eligibility for a Troubles pension, the BBC understands.

This week Boris Johnson reiterated the government’s view that anyone who receives a payment must have been injured through no fault of their own.

Unionists welcomed the PM’s commitment.

But it was criticised by those who believe it is an attempt to circumvent the definition of a victim contained in the Victims and Survivors Order.

That definition identified a victim or survivor as someone 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.

Image caption Aftermath of the Shankill bomb in 1993

Regulations are being published later on Friday which will set up a scheme to make the pension payments.

Unspent convictions

Applications will open by the end of May, with payments expected to range between £2,000 per year to £10,000 per year depending on the severity of someone’s injury.

It is understood the discretionary committee, to be led by a judge or retired judge, will have the power to exclude applicants with unspent convictions.

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

Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, Andree Murphy from Relatives for Justice said it would be progress to “at last see some sort of recognition” but that there were “significant gaps”.

“This should be a really good day, there has been a very long hard campaign by the most vulnerable people who are affected by our conflict,” said Ms Murphy.

However she added: “I think it’s kind of shocking.

“We knew there was going to be legislation that said those who sustained their injury by their own hand would not be eligible, but this seems to go far further than that.”

Image caption A bomb explodes in Belfast city centre during the Troubles

Kenny Donaldson from Innocent Victims United said the regulations were a “mixed bag”.

“We have a concern, and an ongoing concern, around the geographical constraints because it is limited to UK citizens,” said Mr Donaldson.

“In the context of people who would’ve been injured in the Republic of Ireland who are Irish citizens, they would not be included.

“We would reiterate today the absolute necessity for the Republic of Ireland to come up to the mark and match these resources to ensure no victim or survivor is disadvantaged, that’s essential.”

Although the regulations are being published by the Northern Ireland Office and put into law by Westminster, the pensions scheme will be implemented by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The money for the payments is expected to come out of the Northern Ireland block grant from Westminster.

Westminster sources point out that an extra £100m has been added to the sum intended for Troubles legacy matters, bringing it to £250m in total.

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Media captionThe roots of Northern Ireland’s Troubles lie deep in Irish history

It will be up to the Northern Ireland Executive to appoint the judicial figure who will head the discretionary committee.

Troubles victims will be eligible to apply for a pension if they were injured in an incident at any point between 1966 and April 2010, the date that responsibility for policing and justice was devolved to Stormont.

The scheme will also be open to those injured in incidents which took place outside Northern Ireland.

It is understood pensions will be available for those who can demonstrate they suffered psychological as well as physical injury.

However, they may have to show not only that they had a direct connection to a Troubles victim, but that they were at or near the scene of an incident.

The pensions will be backdated to 2014 – the date when they were first agreed in principle by the Stormont parties under the Fresh Start Agreement.

Older victims over the age of 60 may opt to receive a lump sum rather than annual payments.

Image copyright BBC Sport
Image caption Nine people died on Bloody Friday in 1972

There will also be provisions to extend payments to those who care for Troubles victims for more than 35 hours a week.

In the event of a Troubles victim’s death, there will be provisions to make a payment to their loved ones.

The Northern Ireland Office held a consultation on the pensions between October and November last year.

It is understood several thousand people responded to the consultation and officials have been talking to a wide range of victims groups about the proposed scheme.

Government sources said the idea is to create a generous scheme which will seek to address the pain the victims have undoubtedly suffered.

The intention is to make progress regarding victims and survivors and advance the wider process of reconciliation.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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