British government must pay pensions to Troubles victims, commissioner says

Westminster has a ‘moral obligation’ to implement backdated scheme, North official urges

 Judith Thompson, commissioner for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland:  ‘Their suffering increases by the day and their time is running out.’  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Judith Thompson, commissioner for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland: ‘Their suffering increases by the day and their time is running out.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Northern Ireland commissioner for victims and survivors, Judith Thompson, has called on the British government to implement a backdated pension scheme for people who were severely injured during the Troubles.

Under her proposals, recipients would receive an average of £5,000 per year, with annual payments ranging from about £2,000 to £9,700 depending on the extent of the injuries.

It is estimated there are about 500 people who sustained severe physical injuries in the Troubles, with some hundreds more suffering great psychological injuries.

Ms Thompson’s move is the latest in a series of attempts to persuade the British government to make such payments. The issue has long been controversial because no distinction is made between paramilitaries who were severely injured during the Troubles and others.

A number of unionist politicians have complained that under the current proposals the so-called IRA Shankill bomber Sean Kelly would receive a pension, along with some of those severely injured in the 1993 attack.

Ten people were killed in that bombing, including one of the bombers, Thomas Begley, while up to 60 were injured, some severely.

Press ahead

Nonetheless, Ms Thompson has advised the British government in a report published on Wednesday to press ahead with paying the pensions. She said pensions should be backdated to the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement. The pensions should not affect other entitlements of the victims, and payments should not be means-tested.

Ms Thompson said that, in the absence of the Northern Executive, Westminster must implement the pensions legislation.

“While there are political sensitivities around eligibility for a pension, this move has the support of all political parties in Stormont and in Westminster, and I am clear that these recommendations are a fair and reasonable response to supporting the needs of those who suffered the most,” she said.

“There is now a moral obligation on government to ensure this modest pension arrangement is introduced as quickly as possible to allow those people who qualify to access it as quickly as possible. Their suffering increases by the day and their time is running out.”

She said that the “determination, resilience and endurance” of victims and survivors in the face of the most adverse circumstances was inspirational. “The implementation of this pension is the recognition they deserve. We cannot allow this to continue to be a political football and the government cannot kick this issue down the road any longer.”

Lobby

Victims and survivors are to gather at Stormont on Wednesday to further lobby for the pension.

Paul Gallagher, who at 21 was paralysed from the waist down as a result of a UDA shooting in 1994, appealed for the British government to award the pensions. “I fear for the future. I ask our government to do the right thing and support those whose lives were unspeakably and permanently changed by the Troubles,” he said.

Jennifer McNern was also aged 21 when she lost her legs in the IRA Abercorn bombing in central Belfast in 1972. Two women were killed and more than 130 injured. “I not only lost my legs but my future dreams and aspirations as well,” Ms McNern said.

“This pension would relieve a lot of stress and worry about the future. It would give me security and a sense of dignity in my old age.”