Politicians accused of victims payouts  “disaster”

Posted By: June 05, 2020

Bimpe Archer. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, June 5, 2020

POLITICIANS have been accused of making “a disaster” of the “human story” of Troubles victims, as bitter divisions between Sinn Féin and the British government over the payment scheme deepen.
Lewis flatly denied a funding stand-off is holding up payments after a stinging rebuke from Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, who said this week it is “unacceptable [victims] should be made to endure further delay because of political and administrative disputes”.

The Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme, offering £2,000-£10,000 a year depending on the severity of the injury, was due to open on May 29 but is yet make a single payment.

It has been blamed on a dispute between Belfast and London over who will pay the estimated £100 million cost.

In a reply yesterday, Mr Lewis said it is “not the case… discussions about funding are… preventing

the executive from being able to progress implementation”.

“The key step to unblocking progress is the designation of a department to provide administrative support to the Victims Payments Board.

“It is encouraging that the minister of justice is content for her department to be that designated department and I urge the executive to formalize the way forward to get the scheme underway.”

It is understood that Sinn Féin has refused to nominate the department because it is unhappy with elements of the scheme.

And Mr Lewis opened up a new front in the tumultuous process, accusing Sinn Féin of efforts to

“reopen eligibility criteria” .

The NIO’s draft criteria jettisons the 2006 Victims and Survivors Order definition of a victim or survivor as someone “physically or psychologically injured as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident”.

It excludes those injured by their own hand or with a conviction of more than two-and-a-half years – which covers serious offences heard in a high court before a judge and jury or under Diplock.

Mr Lewis said it is too late to change the rules after the legislation was passed by Westminster in March and “the time for delay is done”.

“Sinn Féin has been clear that it wants to reopen the criteria by which eligibility for the scheme will be determined but this is already set in legislation and provides a fair basis for helping those who suffered most throughout the Troubles,” he said.

He added: “The government provided a legislative framework for this scheme in the absence of an

executive and the executive must now deliver.”

He branded Sinn Féin’s position “pretty shameful”, a charge furiously refuted by North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly.

Mr Kelly said the government brought in the regulations “without consultation, to be discriminatory, and all they are interested in is to protect one section of victims”.

Victims advocate Jude Whyte, who has stated he would have agreed to payment being made to the man injured while trying to kill his mother, said efforts to resolve the issue have always “just been a fudge”.

David Maitland received a seven-year ‘recorded sentence’ because he was too badly injured to be accommodated in prison after the 1983 blast.

“This has been going on for 10 years and it’s all about whether or not a small number of people who had injured themselves in a bomb blast should be allowed to apply for this pension,” Mr Whyte said.

“Money is not going to make us love each other, but this is a human story and the politics of this is a disaster.

“The people I was on the Victims Commission with are now in their late 60s. Some have been in wheelchairs for years.

“Someone is going to have to give.”

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh, right, said it is hard to overestimate how “re-traumatising” the delay is for survivors, with “any attempts to frustrate this or reopen questions over eligibility… utterly misplaced”.

“All of us… have a moral and legal responsibility to now get this scheme over the line,” she said.

“The legislation has been passed, the debates have been had.

“No-one should be standing in its way and the legislation, as passed, allows a judicial panel to determine on the more controversial cases.” END.