Victims’ payments-who is to blame?

On 22nd October 2019 the British government launched a consultation on a ‘Victims’ Payment Scheme’. 

The consultation closed on 26th November 2019.

The legislation was made on 31st January 2020 at 11.20am and laid before Parliament at 2.30pm that day.

They were the Victims’ Payments Regulations 2020 No. 103, made under the powers conferred by sections 10 and 11 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc ) Act 2019.

The NIO issued the following press release.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Julian Smith CBE MP, has today signed new legislation establishing a victims payments scheme.

This scheme acknowledges the harm caused to those people injured through no fault of their own in the Troubles through annual payments of c. £2,000 to £10,000 for the rest of their lives.

Following consultation, changes have been made to the scheme to increase the number of injured people who will qualify, and to benefit spouses and carers looking after those who were seriously injured. It will not apply to those who were injured due to their own actions or who committed serious criminal offences. 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.

Secretary of State Julian Smith said: “The Troubles had a devastating impact on many, and the time has come to implement a victims payments scheme to deliver for those who need it most and for those injured through no fault of their own.

“I would like to pay tribute to the courage of those people who have fought long and hard to see such a scheme.

“We have talked about this for long enough. It is time to get it done.”

The Troubles had a profound and often devastating impact on too many people, in Northern Ireland and beyond. When we speak about the Troubles we rightly talk about the many violent deaths, but it is also vital that we do not overlook the harm caused to those who were seriously injured in Troubles incidents.

Many of the people who were injured have to live with a daily reminder of the impact of that terrible event or events – whether through loss of mobility, loss of limbs, psychological trauma or some other life limiting health condition or disability.

Following the recent consultation, the Secretary of State has introduced new rules for the scheme, so that the needs of those injured in the Troubles through no fault of their own receive the recognition that they deserve.

The new scheme will mean:

*The payment can be transferred to a spouse, civil partner, cohabiting partner, registered carer or anyone who provided a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for ten years on death of the injured person.

*The date parameters for the scheme will be Jan 1966 – Apr 2010, but an independent Board will also have discretion to consider applications for incidents outside these dates which they consider it would be in line with the purpose of the scheme to include.

*Awards may only be adjusted for historic compensation where that historic compensation is higher than a threshold.

*Payments through the scheme will not impact income-related benefits or tax (including income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax).

*Anyone injured anywhere in the UK who meet the other eligibility criteria will be eligible for the scheme (regardless of residency). And any UK citizen, or person of NI, injured in Europe will be eligible.

The discussions and delay of the past few years have gone on long enough. The time has come to get this done and deliver for those people who will benefit most.

The new Regulations will mean that from May, victims can apply for payments, and the system has been designed to support those seriously injured and traumatised in the Troubles.

This new scheme and legislation being introduced today puts victims and their needs at the heart of Government’s approach to dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Whilst it was legislation made at Westminster, with some minor exceptions the Regulations extended to Northern Ireland only.

A number of provisions came into force on 24th February 2020. Particularly  , the provisions of Schedule 1. This Schedule provides for the formation of a Board. The law required the Executive Office to designate a Northern Ireland Department to exercise the administrative functions of the Board on the Board’s behalf.

This has not been done, on time or at all.

The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission [“NIJAC”] must appoint all the members of the Board. This has not been done, because NIJAC has received no request from the Executive Office to so do.

I only became aware of this situation on 20th May.

We are now told that no action has been taken regarding the legal duties of the Executive because there is a row over funding.

The remaining regulations come into force on 29th May, the date when victims thought they could make application for compensation.

Nothing will happen on that date.

It is clear that neither Covid-19 nor a row  about the source of funding would have prevented the Executive from nominating a Department nor giving instructions to NIJAC.

It is equally clear that despite the Executive knowing that the date would not be met, even when visualised in early pre-Covid March, they kept quiet.

So, how did this all come about?

Here’s what the News Letter reported on 4th  February 2020

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said face-to-face assessments “must be handled sensitively” while DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the fact that money “will not be awarded to victim makers”. But Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill says the government “appears intent on excluding large sections of our society” from the money. Ulster Human Rights Watch welcomed the news but “will continue to pressurise Government for clarity” on how pereptrators are excluded.

At the same time Foster was telling the media that the NI budget could not fund the scheme and the Victims’ Commissioner was agreeing with her.

So, on one view of it , it’s a cock up between Westminster and Stormont and a misunderstanding as to where the money was coming from to fund the scheme.

When Stormont re-opened on 11th January, it was after tortuous discussions, including finance. The Executive knew that Westminster was legally committed to making laws for Northern Ireland, including a victims’ payment scheme.

On 17th February, that man for all seasons, Jeffrey Donaldson was quoted :

A senior DUP MP is “hopeful” that the Treasury will be “forthcoming” in funding a pension scheme for victims of the Troubles. 

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the DUP’s Westminster leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, emphasised that victims had already been waiting too long for the payments.

“The next financial year begins in April,” Donaldson commented, “So the sooner we can get a commitment to fund the scheme, the sooner the innocent victims can start to receive their payments.

“Frankly, they have been waiting too long already, and I hope that the Treasury will recognise the need to provide this funding as soon as possible.

“We would hope that the Treasury will be forthcoming with funding,” he stated. 

That statement was made a week before the first phase of the scheme was to become operational.

But is it the usual tale of  Stormont incompetence or is it something more?

At the Executive Office Committee meeting on 20th May, Foster said “we don’t have the wherewithal in the block grant…this is a legitimate expectation”.  It is of course law, not an expectation.

The SFIRA Deputy First Minister said this “it is one part of the package of legacy measures that need to be implemented… all things need to be delivered upon”.

Doug Beattie [ that towering intellect] replied: “you’re right of course”.

Later Bomber Anderson, who also graces the committee said “there isn’t the funding in the budget, the responsibility resides with the British government and we need full implementation of the Stormont House Review.”

Readers will know  that SFIRA were unhappy with the legislation, which seeks to exclude the likes of Kelly , the Shankill bomber. The Shinners are also unhappy with proposals for amnesty for members of the armed forces.

So, the message is clear, the Victims’ Payment Scheme is going nowhere, courtesy of yet another SFIRA veto.

As before , the DUP is complicit in this, terrified of another Stormont collapse and loss of power. The Official Unionists don’t count and the Alliance Party, particularly the Justice Minister, is silent.

 

The toll on victims is unimaginable.

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