In Parliament, I asked the government why the pensions scheme for victims of the Troubles that was passed into legislation earlier this year has not been set up or paying out despite the legal deadline having passed.
The 2014 Stormont House Agreement included an agreement to find an acceptable way forwards on a pension for those severely injured in the Troubles. The measures were finally provided for in law in 2019, after a decades-long campaign by victims, and included victims of violence relating to the troubles across the United Kingdom.
The scheme was due to open for applications on 29th May – but has not opened as expected causing understandable fury and horror amongst victims and victims groups.
The Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government are in dispute over who is responsible for the cost of the scheme. The Government insists the estimated £100m cost must be covered by Stormont, as part of the block-grant, but First Minister Arlene Foster has said the scheme is unaffordable without extra treasury funding.
It is outrageous that the clock has run down without solving these issues and that the consequence is that victims cannot access payments they are entitled to under law. It has taken years to get to this point – further delay at the moment of delivery is unacceptable.
The NI Victims’ Commissioner, Judith Thompson, wrote to the Prime Minister calling the delay “a shameful stand-off” and the “ultimate insult” to victims.
Victims like Jennifer, who lost her legs when a no-warning bomb went off in Belfast, have been on an agonising journey over decades in campaigning for this payment. Paul Gallagher, who has suffered decades of pain and disability after being shot in his home by gunmen said, of the delay in implementing payments, “this has been the toughest week of my life”.
Ensuring that victims can live in dignity must be our overriding priority. The UK Government and NI Executive must act urgently to honour their legal and moral commitments to these victims.