Troubles victims' pension: Julian Smith praises campaigners
Victims who led a long campaign for a pension for people injured during the Troubles have been praised for their "fortitude" by the secretary of state.
Julian Smith paid tribute to the campaigners' determination, just hours after he signed new legislation which set up an annual payment scheme.
It will provide life-long financial support to severely injured victims.
But some campaigners are angry that the scheme is only open to people injured "through no fault of their own".
It means that anyone convicted of taking part in an attack which caused them to be injured - for example bombers who were caught up in their own explosion - would not qualify for the pension.
Both Sinn Féin and the campaign group Relatives for Justice accused the government of creating a "hierarchy" of victims and trying to impose its own version of the past.
More than 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles and the Northern Ireland Office has estimated that a further 40,000 were injured during more than 30 years of violence.
The pension campaign was beset by years of delays due to disagreements over whether former paramilitaries would be eligible for payments.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Smith acknowledged that there were "different views about how to proceed" but added the "discussions and delay of the past few years have gone on long enough".
"This scheme is intended to provide much-needed acknowledgement, and a measure of additional financial support, to people injured through no fault of their own in a Troubles-related incident, some of whom are struggling to make ends meet," he said.
The payments will range from about £2,000 to £10,000 a year depending on the severity of disability.
'Bravery and fortitude'
Mr Smith also commended victims' groups who persevered with their campaign for compensation for more than a decade.
"It is right that we recognise the bravery and fortitude of those people who have fought hard for too long to see such a scheme," he said.
"This is a moment to recognise those living with life-limiting injuries, and to acknowledge the harm they have suffered.
"We should pause and thank those who have helped us get to a place where we can provide a scheme like this."
Outlining the new regulations, the secretary of state said the government had "listened carefully" to those who took part in a recent public consultation and introduced "new, more generous rules".
"For the first time, we will also ensure that payments can transfer to partners and carers who look after those still living with their injuries," Mr Smith said.
Referring to the scheme's restrictions, he added: "An independent judge-led board will make decisions on whether payments should be made where there is compelling evidence that a payment would not be appropriate."
Eligible victims will have to apply for the payments, and the scheme will open for applications at the end of May 2020.
It is the second time within two months that Mr Smith has pushed through legislation to give financial support to victims who had faced years of frustration over compensation delays.
In November, he helped to fast-track the Historical Institutional Abuse Bill through Parliament, which set up a redress payments scheme for people who were abused as children in residential homes.
In a statement on Friday, the Wave Trauma Centre welcomed the Troubles payment scheme, saying it would make a "real difference" to victims.
"The Injured Group at Wave have been campaigning for over 10 years for official recognition and acknowledgement of the great harm done to individuals who have been severely injured during the Troubles," said Wave's chief executive Sandra Peake.
"To see legislation being enacted at Westminster is testament to the tenacity and resilience of the group who have been fighting an often lonely campaign on behalf of those who have been marginalised for too long."
But Relatives for Justice accused the government of using the legislation "to promote their own partial narrative of the past".
It added that the regulations did not sufficiently address the needs of people bereaved as a result of the Troubles, and described it as an "insulting and ill-thought out piece of legislation".