British government publishes victims’ pension guidance but still no money for scheme

DUP and Sinn Féin quarrel over who should be entitled to payments

Efforts to create a pension for people who suffered terrible injuries in the Troubles continue to be mired in controversy as details were published on who should be entitled to the annual payments – if the scheme ever gets off the ground.

The DUP and Sinn Féin continued to engage in recrimination over the issue on Friday while the Northern Executive and British government remain at loggerheads over who should pay for the pensions.

Meanwhile, more than 500 people who sustained serious physical and psychological injuries in the conflict continue to wait on pensions which, depending on the severity of their injuries, would be worth between £2,000 and £10,000 annually.

The Executive contends that the British government should bear the cost of the scheme while the British government in turn insists that legally the money must come from the Stormont coffers. The issue is also before the courts.


There is a second obstacle to the scheme in that Sinn Féin within the Executive is refusing to nominate the Department of Justice to operate the scheme, a nomination that is necessary to get the payments rolling.

Under the guidance published by Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis on Friday it was repeated that those who suffered an injury at their own hand when carrying out a paramilitary attack will not be entitled to payments.

Where there was evidence of continuing paramilitary involvement such people also would not be entitled to pensions.

Under the scheme people will be excluded from payments where they have served sentences of more than 30 months in prison for paramilitary or non-paramilitary crimes.

There will be exceptions, however, in that a board, to be appointed to administer the scheme, in its discretion and on a case by case basis can decide that payments should be paid to some people who had been in prison for more than 30 months.

The board, according to the guidance, must decide “whether the seriousness of the relevant conviction is outweighed by mitigating circumstances and relevant factors”.

The guidance says that an offence may be disregarded where with the passage of time there was evidence that the former offender had demonstrated “remorse, restitution or positive behaviour since the time of that conviction”; where the person was under 18 at the time of the offence; where there was evidence of mental incapacity by the offender; or where they was evidence that the person was coerced into committing the offence.

DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said the guidance was "another small step along the road to innocent victims receiving a pension which they rightly deserve".

“It is right and proper that victim-makers are not able to avail of this pension. It would be wholly wrong for bombers to be awarded a pension,” she added.

Ms Foster said that the block to implementing the scheme was because Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill “has not agreed to designate the Department of Justice to process the pension”.

Sinn Féin argues that the rules of the scheme could be used to block people from a republican background from getting pensions.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the British government proposals were "exclusionary, discriminatory and unacceptable".

“What the British government are putting forward in this guidance document would create a hierarchy of victims which would exclude many, particularly those from within the nationalist and republican community,” he said.

“The victims’ pension scheme cannot be exclusionary. The hurt and pain of all victims is the same,” he said.

Mr Kelly added, “This is a further indication of the British government attempting to abandon the agreements on legacy in the (2014) Stormont House Agreement, agreed by the two governments and all the political parties. They focus instead on protecting and covering up the role of [British] state forces in the conflict, regardless of the needs of victims.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times