‘Inappropriate’ to make victims’ payout to those guilty of causing serious harm
Anyone convicted of causing serious harm during the Troubles should not be eligible for victims’ compensation payments, new Government guidance states.
Those with a recent terrorism conviction of any sort will also be unable to access the money, according to the guidance.
The guiding principles to determine eligibility have been published amid an ongoing political standoff over the implementation of the long-delayed scheme to support those physically or psychologically injured during the Troubles.
Sinn Fein has refused to proceed with implementation, by designating a Stormont department to administer the scheme, because it believes the Government’s approach could exclude thousands of injured people from the republican community who were involved in the conflict.
The party reacted angrily to Friday’s publication, with MLA Gerry Kelly claiming the guidance was “discriminatory” and “rewarded” state forces.
However, DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the guidance, insisting it was right that “victim-makers” were not able to avail themselves of a victims’ pension.
The scheme automatically bars anyone who was injured in an act they were responsible for.
However, there are convicted paramilitaries who were injured in other circumstances during the Troubles, such as those who were targeted by rival gunmen or state forces.
Under the scheme, any injured individuals with a serious conviction, i.e. those who were given a 30-month-plus prison sentence, must have their cases assessed by an independent adjudication board to decide whether they are eligible for the payment.
The principles published by the Government will guide the board’s deliberations.
The guidance make clears that it would be inappropriate to award compensation to anyone responsible for causing serious harm, such as anyone guilty of murder, attempted murder or GBH.
The Government has warned that, if the board sets aside this guidance and awards compensation to anyone who falls into that category, it reserves the right to intervene and veto it.
The guidance also outlines the mitigating factors that may lead the board to allocate the payments to someone with a serious conviction.
Those include whether the individual was a juvenile at the time of the offence, whether they had a mental incapacity, and whether they have demonstrated remorse and have not engaged in further criminality since the conviction.
The Government said the board, which will be chaired by a judicial figure, will assess each application on a case-by-case basis.
The payment scheme was legislated for at Westminster at a time when Stormont was still in cold storage due to the powersharing crisis.
The Government legislation handed the responsibility for running the scheme to the devolved executive.
Aside from the eligibility row, there is a separate dispute between the Government and Stormont Executive on who should fund the scheme.
The Government insists that Stormont should pay, but ministers in Belfast insist the Treasury should contribute, highlighting the scheme will be open to victims who live in Great Britain.
The scheme, which should have opened to applications at the end of May, will pay out £2,000 to £10,000 a year depending on the severity of the injury.
The eligibility guidance issued by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Friday was not substantially different from a leaked draft version that was made public earlier in the summer.
“The moral and legal obligation to deliver this scheme for victims of the Troubles injured through no fault of their own is undeniable and I hope that the publication of today’s guidance will renew the focus and efforts of the Northern Ireland Executive to move forward to finally deliver for these victims,” said Mr Lewis.
“The political disagreements and delay of the last few years on this issue have gone on long enough.
“It is imperative that Sinn Fein now enable the scheme to move forward by agreeing with all the other parties and urgently designate a department to administer the scheme and get payments to those who will benefit most.”
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly accused the Government of failing to engage with the Stormont parties on the issue and instead presenting a “fait accompli”.
“This is entirely discriminatory, it’s exclusionary, and it is there to protect British forces during the conflict, and actually to reward them, and to exclude as many republicans and nationalists as they possibly can,” he said.
The MLA compared the move with the Government’s decision to step away from legacy mechanisms agreed by the UK and Irish governments and Stormont parties in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.
Mr Kelly said Sinn Fein did not want to see anyone excluded from the scheme, with the payments administered on the “basis of need”.
DUP First Minister Mrs Foster said the guidance represented “another small step along the road to innocent victims receiving a pension which they rightly deserve”.
She added: “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.
“The blockage remains that the Deputy First Minister (Michelle O’Neill) has not agreed to designate the Department of Justice to process the pension.”
She added: “It is time for Sinn Fein to make the needs of innocent victims, from all over the British Isles and of all political backgrounds, a priority and allow the pension to move forward.”
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