Northern Ireland

Spirit of Enniskillen Trust charity folding due to pension crisis

Scene of Enniskillen bomb in 1987 Image copyright PA
Image caption The bomb exploded at the town's war memorial as people gathered for a Remembrance Sunday service

A cross-community charity established in the aftermath of the IRA Poppy Day bombing is folding due to a staff pension crisis.

The Spirit of Enniskillen Trust was set up shortly after the County Fermanagh town was devastated by the 1987 bomb.

It was inspired by peace campaigner Gordon Wilson, father of one of the 12 people killed by the IRA attack.

Up to 20 other groups within the voluntary sector are also believed to be in trouble over the same problem.

'Financial difficulties'

The Spirit of Enniskillen trustees are winding up the charity because of a £250,000 deficit in the organisation's pension provision.

It is understood the other local groups affected also use the same pension scheme. They include the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), the umbrella body for the local voluntary and community sector.

A solicitor for the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust said the decision to wind up the long-standing charity had been taken reluctantly.

John Gordon, from Belfast-based firm Napier and Sons, said: "The Spirit of Enniskillen Trust in common with a number of other charities in Northern Ireland has experienced financial difficulties in recent years due to an increasing pension deficiency.

"Over the last few months the trustees have explored various options for dealing responsibly with an increasingly unsustainable financial situation.

"Reluctantly and with deep regret, the trustees have concluded that the only viable alternative is to wind up the charity and cease operations."

Image caption The charity was established after Gordon Wilson forgave the IRA bombers who killed his daughter

It is understood that the trust has four employees and a chief executive and has received annual funding of around £300,000.

Reconciliation

For almost 25 years, the award-winning charity has worked across Northern Ireland with young people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

It was established in an attempt to harness the atmosphere of forgiveness and reconciliation that Mr Wilson's words had inspired.

The Poppy Day bomb exploded at Enniskillen's war memorial on 8 November 1987, as local people gathered for the annual Remembrance Sunday service.

Mr Wilson survived the explosion but his daughter Marie, a 20-year-old student nurse, died from her injuries.

The pair were trapped under rubble and debris in the aftermath of the bomb, and Mr Wilson described how she had squeezed his hand and told him that she loved him shortly before she passed away.

Mr Wilson forgave the bombers in a BBC interview recorded shortly after the death of his daughter.

His response to the attack was to say that he would pray for the people who had taken his daughter's life.

'Legacy of violence'

The interview made headlines around the world and also made a significant impact on the political situation in Northern Ireland.

On its website, the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust describes its mission as: "Young people leading change and working towards shared societies."

"We believe that leadership is critical if Northern Ireland is to move away from a legacy of violence, deal with the current difference and move towards being a cohesive, integrated and diverse society," the website states.

Marie Wilson was one of 11 people killed on the day of the Poppy Day bombing. A 12th victim, head teacher Ronnie Hill, died after 13 years in a coma.

Mr Wilson rose to international prominence in the aftermath of the bombing and in 1993, he accepted an Irish government invitation to become a member of the Republic of Ireland's Senate.

He also met members of the IRA, to appeal to them to stop their campaign, following the deaths of two young boys in the Warrington bombing.

Mr Wilson died in June 1995.

'Domino effect'

It is understood that the pension problems that led to the winding up of the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust are also causing financial difficulties for charitable organisations across the UK.

Last month, umbrella groups representing the UK voluntary and community sector wrote a joint letter to the Minister of State for Pensions, Steve Webb.

The letter - written by the Charity Finance Group, National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action - expressed concern for up to 5,000 UK charities in "multi-employer defined benefit schemes".

They said many organisations were "caught in a double bind" - facing spiralling debt if they stay in the scheme or having to meet "enormous buy-out debts" in order to withdraw from it.

"As charities fail, there is domino effect on others in the same pension scheme. This situation is simply unsustainable," the letter stated.

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