Ministers asked about delays to payment scheme for victims of the Troubles

04 June 2020

Earlier today, Louise Haigh MP asked an urgent question to the Northern Ireland Office on delays to a pension scheme for victims of the Troubles.

The pension is a scheme to provide financial support for around 40,000 people who were seriously injured during the Troubles, a threed-decade period of violence between nationalist and unionists in Northern Ireland. The scheme would provide payments of £2,000 to £10,000 every year for victims.

The pension scheme was announced by the UK Government in 2019, when the Northern Ireland legislature was not sitting. Sinn Féin, one of the four parties controlling the Northern Ireland Assembly (also known as Stormont) believe that the UK Government should pay for the scheme.

Sinn Féin also believe that the UK Government's decision on who will be eligible will mean that anybody with a conviction of more than two and a half years will be excluded, as well as those who were injured through their own actions.

The Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, Louise Haigh, asked the Secretary for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, for a statement on the topic.

Robin Walker: funding "not the case" for delay

Answering on behalf of the Northern Ireland Secretary, Robin Walker told the House that the Secretary of State had written to Ms Haigh, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and the Victims’ Commissioner on this issue today.

Mr Walker said that the scheme was drawn up last year "to provide much needed acknowledgement and a measure of additional financial support", with regulations established in January this year as part of obligations under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. 

The Minister said it was "not the case" that funding was the reason for the delay. He said that the Northern Ireland Executive had "not yet designated a Department to lead on the implementation" and that Sinn Féin sought to "reopen the criteria by which eligibility for the scheme will be determined", which he said was already set in legislation.

He concluded:

"The UK Government have provided that way forward, through the regulations made in January [...] The Executive must now set aside their political differences."

Louise Haigh: "re-traumatising" for victims

Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Louise Haigh, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, said the Labour Party were "proud" to join the "cross-party efforts to introduce the scheme". But she emphasised that the legal deadline for the payments "came and went" last Friday.

Ms Haigh said that many victims "have waited a lifetime" for this support, and outlined cases of those affected, highlighting how "re-traumatising this experience has been for many victims". She said that "legislation, as passed, allows a judicial panel to determine on the more controversial cases", so questions of eligibility were "misplaced".

The Shadow Minister questioned Mr Walker on his assertion that the delay was not due to funding. She quoted the First Minister, who said "It is unseemly that these deserving people are being let down due to the Government not releasing funding."

Ms Haigh then asked if funding had now been given to the Northern Ireland Executive, and if draft guidance would be issued to a department when it is designated. She also asked if the regulations are "explicitly permissive" and will "allow significant scope for the judicial board to consider cases on an individual basis".

She finished:

"It is now time for all of us, Westminster and Stormont, to meet our moral and legal obligations, and finally to deliver the pension and acknowledgement."

    Image: Creative Commons

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