Pension campaigner hails progress in ‘long journey’ for recognition payments

·3-min read

A victims pension campaigner has hailed the confirmation of funding for the first year of recognition payments as progress following a long journey.

Paul Gallagher, who was left in a wheelchair when loyalist gunmen in Belfast shot him after they were unable to find his neighbour, has been campaigning for more than a decade to secure recognition payments for the most badly injured.

The Victim Payment Scheme was delayed due to political rows between the DUP and Sinn Fein over eligibility, as well as a stand-off between Belfast and London over who should fund the payments.

A court ruled earlier this year that the Northern Ireland Executive must fund the scheme.

Jennifer McNern begins Court challenge
Belfast bomb victim Jennifer McNern, centre (Liam McBurney/PA)

On Thursday Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced £19 million to fund the first year of the scheme but said discussions continue with the Treasury over funding for future years when the costs are likely to be higher.

It is estimated that the pension could end up costing £1.2 billion over its lifetime.

Mr Murphy said later years could see the scheme cost more than Stormont has the means to pay for.

Mr Gallagher welcomed the indication the scheme will open at the end of August for applications, but said some of the injured died before having the chance to apply.

“It’s been a long journey and we’ve lost a few people along the way but hopefully for whoever is left, many of whom are quite elderly, will get their payments,” he told the PA news agency.

“There is always the worry (about the funding for future years) but assurances have been given by politicians here following court rulings that they will fund it.”

1981 republican hunger strikes
Kenny Donaldson (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Gallagher said after years of delays, it took Westminster to legislate for the scheme and a court ruling to get to this stage.

Kenny Donaldson, of the victims group SEFF, said while uncertainty remains about longer term funding, Thursday’s announcement brings the scheme “well beyond the point of no return”.

“Victims and survivors have been on a roller-coaster ride with this scheme, there have been highs and also lows. We now need a period of steadiness and continuity of funding,” he said.

“We reiterate our view that the UK Government through central funds, the Northern Ireland Executive (through the block grant) and the Republic of Ireland Government should all be contributing financially to this scheme.

“Governments need to resolve these matters and fast and bring a level of certainty that victims and survivors haven’t had on practically any policy issue over the last quarter of a century.”

Andree Murphy, from the victims group Relatives For Justice (RFJ), also welcomed progress on the pension scheme, but expressed concern whether the system will be able to cope with the level of demand.

She said RFJ alone has several hundred people ready to apply for the scheme, adding they expect a deluge of applications.

“We’re led to believe the infrastructure isn’t really going to be ready to do assessments which will lead to payments this side of Christmas, so it is going to be a long time between application, assessment and when people receive money,” she said.

“It is good that money is going to be there for the first year, but year two is where the bulk of the money is going to have to be placed.”

She said victims and survivors have felt ignored and isolated throughout the peace process, and this scheme will leave many out, including those bereaved and former prisoners.

Ms Murphy said it is extraordinary that Westminster has indicated it will not provide further funding for the scheme given that thousands in Great Britain will also be applying for payments.

She said: “It’s unprecedented that the British Government would introduce legislation, legislation that they have had absolute control of, and yet take absolutely no responsibility for the implications.”

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