Govt publishes Troubles pension eligibility guidance

The Northern Irish (NI) Office and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, have published guidance detailing the eligibility criteria for the Troubles victims’ pension scheme.

The Victims’ Payments Scheme will provide benefits to victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 20th century.

Those living with a permanent disablement caused by serious injury “through no fault of their own” in Troubles-related incidents will be eligible.

The guidance explains that those injured “at their own hand” will not be eligible and provides for the establishment of an independent board that will make case-by-case decisions.

Anyone who had a criminal conviction where they were found to have caused serious harm to anyone else should not ordinarily receive benefits.

However, the government stated that it was not for the government to prejudge the board’s decisions, with the guidance intended to be helpful in setting out guiding principles for decision-making.

The guidance added that it would not be appropriate for payments to be made to people who have a serious conviction for an offence that caused serious harm to others or who have a recent conviction for a terrorist-related offence.

However, if the board decides to award benefits in such cases, the government reserves the ability to intervene.

Under the guidance, the newly established board can decide that payments are inappropriate due to a range of factors, including the harm caused to someone else by the offence for which the applicant has a relevant conviction for, the specific nature of the offence and length of sentence, the age at the time of offence, or the passage of time since that offence and the individual’s behaviour since.

"The moral and legal obligation to deliver this scheme for victims of the Troubles injured through no fault of their own is undeniable," said Lewis.

"The political disagreements and delay of the last few years on this issue have gone on long enough.

"It is imperative that Sinn Féin 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 Féin MLA, Gerry Kelly, described the government's guidance as "exclusionary, discriminatory and unacceptable".

"There is a need for a scheme which not only acknowledges the hurt and suffering of all victims of the conflict but also meets their needs, including financial needs," he added.

"What the British government are putting forward in this guidance document would create a hierarchy of victims which would exclude many, particularly those from within the nationalist and republican community.

"We made it clear that there is a need for a political solution to this issue so that a resolution could be found which meets the needs of all victims, with no one left behind. Instead the British government have presented this guidance without consultation and completely against the 2006 legal definition of a victim.

"The victims' pension scheme cannot be exclusionary. The hurt and pain of all victims is the same."

Both the UK and Northern Ireland have faced recent criticism over the delays to pension payments to victims of the Troubles.

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