Northern Ireland

Troubles pension: Legal action threat over delay

Victims of the Troubles in wheelchairs
Image caption The level of payment through the scheme will depend on the severity of a victim's injuries

Troubles victims will begin legal action on Friday over the Northern Ireland Executive's failure to start the planned pension scheme.

The process will be open for applications next Friday as planned.

It has emerged there has been no progress to appoint a department to operate the scheme.

Victims' campaigner Alan McBride said the executive faced the embarrassment of being brought to court by victims for failing to implement the scheme.

There has been disagreement around who should fund the pension, which was agreed in 2014 and signed into legislation in January 2020.

The executive believes the UK government should provide funds, but NI Secretary Brandon Lewis has insisted the estimated £100m cost rests with Stormont.

Speaking on Friday afternoon, First Minister Arlene Foster said: "This pension went through the Westminster parliament, the regulations were set in Westminster before the Stormont executive returned in January.

"Therefore we take a very clear view in relation to the funding."

She added, however, that an executive department would be designated soon to administer the scheme.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said there are "key issues that need to be resolved and they need to be resolved as quickly as possible to allow this payment to happen.

"The issue of funding is of course one of those issues and also the issue of the guidelines based on need."

'Embarrassing situation'

Earlier, Mr McBride, from the WAVE Injured Group, said he did not think victims and survivors should be involved in the conversation around who should pay.

He told Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme they were serving the Northern Ireland Executive with notice to put the correct structures in place or face "the embarrassing situation" of court action.

While he acknowledged the government's attention "was elsewhere due to Covid-19", he said this issue predated the pandemic.

"It is now up to our politicians to get this over the line and to do what is legally and morally required of them," he said.

"This is the responsibility of government, the responsibility of the Executive Office."

NI Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said the delays were unacceptable.

"These people are mostly elderly, mostly by the nature of their injuries are vulnerable," she said.

Speaking on BBC Northern Ireland's The View, she said the delays were "an insult literally added to injury".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Brandon Lewis said an executive department must be designated to run the scheme

The NI Secretary has said he shares the "huge frustration" caused by a delay to Troubles pensions.

Also speaking on BBC Northern Ireland's The View, he said: "This was agreed as part of the budget the executive have."

Mr Lewis said he was "hopeful" that would be sorted out "in the imminent near future".

Thousands of applications expected

Victims physically or psychologically injured "through no fault of their own" are to receive between £2,000 and £10,000 annually.

More than 40,000 people were injured during the Troubles and the scheme anticipates receiving thousands of applications, with payments back-dated to 2014.

MPs passed laws last year to set up the scheme but Stormont will oversee it.

What is the Troubles' pension?

It was drawn up in 2019 by the UK government, when the Stormont assembly was not functioning.

The Troubles claimed more than 3,500 lives and the Northern Ireland Office has estimated another 40,000 people were injured.

The scheme aims to provide pension-like payments to victims of the Troubles, every year for the rest of their lives, with payments ranging from £2,000 to £10,000.

Victims will be eligible to apply if they were injured in an incident at any point between 1 January 1966 and 12 April 2010, the date that responsibility for policing and justice was devolved to Stormont.

The scheme will also be open to those injured in incidents that took place outside Northern Ireland.

The pensions will be backdated to 2014 - the date when they were first agreed, in principle, by the Stormont parties under the Fresh Start Agreement.

Older victims, over the age of 60, may opt to receive a lump sum rather than annual payments.

Most people will be assessed on medical records but face-to-face assessments will be used if this is not possible.

There will also be provisions to extend payments to those who care for Troubles' victims for more than 35 hours a week.

In the event of a Troubles victim's death, there will be provisions to make a payment to their loved ones.

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