End squabbling and get Victims’ Compensation Scheme back on track

There’s a callous indifference about the way innocent victims have been left high and dry over the Compensation Scheme that was due to go ‘live’ at the end of the month.

The confirmation that the long-awaited scheme would be delayed was devastating news. Compensation applications were eagerly awaited. Many innocent victims are struggling with money worries and were looking forward to some financial relief.

Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) has had mounting concern about the state of readiness of the Victims and Survivors Unit in the Executive Office at Stormont.

We emailed the Unit on the 18th May asking for details of a website address for the scheme and an email address and telephone number which victims could use if they had questions and needed assistance.

The reply arrived in my Inbox on Friday, 22nd. It stated: “Discussions are ongoing with Ministers about arrangements for the Scheme.  We are therefore not yet in a position to provide the information you have requested. We will hold your request and provide you with the information once available.”

So, unbelievable as it may seem, seven days from the planned start of the much-vaunted aid package, glaring deficiencies in the operation and management of the scheme were exposed.

Little or no preparatory work seems to have been done since the Scheme was announced late last year and the legislation passed at the end of January. The ‘architecture’ needed to support the day-to-day operation of the scheme doesn’t appear to have progressed beyond the rough sketch stage.

This whole sorry episode has descended into unseemly political squabbling. The blame game has taken centre-stage with victims once again collateral damage.

The Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis MP, has made it abundantly clear that the £100 million needed to fund the compensation initiative was agreed as part of the Block Grant budget allocated to the Northern Ireland Executive. The First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA, said the scheme was unaffordable without extra Government funding.

The upshot of this spat is that thousands of victims are feeling disrespected and marginalised. Once again, they have been made into a political football between Stormont and Westminster and are naturally very angry. They view what is happening as a shocking inability to simply do what’s right.

The issue throws up several questions that deserve honest answers.

Why was it left so late in the day to postpone the scheme?

Who took the decision to delay its implementation?

Third, why was the groundwork needed to make the scheme operational from 29th May not completed? Was it even started?

What is Sinn Fein’s attitude to the dispute over funding?

Why weren’t steps taken to resolve the funding quarrel long before May?

Couldn’t the dispute have been dealt with before the Coronavirus lockdown in March?

Has Mr Lewis got the necessary paperwork to support his view that £100 million was part of the Northern Ireland allocation from the Exchequer?

Are disagreements between unionist and republican Ministers over who should qualify for compensation a factor in this delay?

Has the Secretary of State issued guidance to the victims’ payments Board regarding circumstances in which a relevant conviction or exceptional circumstances make entitlement to victim’s payment inappropriate?

When will the postponed scheme become operational?

There are two irreconcilable views out there. Which of the two narratives is accurate and correct? It’s time for clarity and some transparency.

Since the introduction of legislation in January, after many false dawns, victims allowed themselves to believe that the finishing line was finally in sight. They were poised to get what they should have been entitled to years ago.

Compensation of between £2,000 and £10,000 a-year would have a significant positive impact on the lives of people injured physically or psychologically by terrorist actions. Their lives were utterly changed when bombers and gunmen carried out their murderous campaigns.

The scheme would not only give much-needed financial help, but it would also afford recognition and acknowledgement to their plight. It’s time to end the political he-said, she-said squabbling and get this Compensation Scheme back on track.

Today, they have been disappointed in a cold and heartless manner. The sooner this great wrong is remedied, and an apology delivered, the sooner innocent victims will get on with making life that little bit more bearable.

Compensation Scheme delay is ‘dreadful setback for victims’

Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) is seeking an urgent explanation from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government as to why the new Victims’ Compensation Scheme will not be introduced at the end of May.

The scheme would make payments of between £2,000 and £10,000 each year to innocent victims of terrorism.

UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “This is a body blow. It comes just ten days before the scheme is scheduled to go ‘live’ and we’d like to know why it won’t happen on time?

“Victims will be massively disappointed and once again will feel let down. There seems to be a spat between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government over funding and it is something that should have been sorted out months ago.

“Innocent victims of violent terrorist attacks are once again left wondering why they should be the ones to suffer. Have they not suffered enough already?

“Let’s get some clarification from the Northern Ireland Executive and Ministers and let’s hear from the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis MP. What is the real position over funding? Are there other reasons why the scheme is now being delayed? Has the Secretary of State issued guidance to the Victims’ Payment Board regarding circumstances in which a relevant conviction or exceptional circumstances make entitlement to victim’s payment inappropriate? And is there a new date for the introduction of the scheme?

“This is a dreadful setback. It is massively disappointing and today, victims will be justifiably angry and feeling they have been abandoned.”

New legacy report ‘is hollow and unbalanced’

Ulster Human Rights Watch, which champions the cause of innocent victims of terrorism, has labelled the latest legacy report produced by academics and the Committee on the Administration for Justice as ‘hollow and unbalanced.’

The Lurgan-based human rights charity says the report is a desperate, last-ditch attempt to alter the course of a debate that is already a lost cause.

Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “Much to the disappointment of certain politicians and academics, the Government has rightly accepted the case made for a different approach, than the one proposed in the stalled Stormont House Agreement, to dealing with the past.

“This latest paper is hollow and unbalanced. It overlooks the life sentence that is endured by hundreds of relatives of murdered loved ones and the physical and mental anguish experienced by survivors of terrorist actions.

“This is a last, desperate throw of the dice that doesn’t deserve to be treated seriously. The authors have gone back on their previous position. Having lost the argument, they are now attempting to remain relevant with this latest effort.

“Our position remains unchanged. A new Historical Investigations Unit would be a colossal burden for the taxpayer to bear and deliver negligible results. It would be used to demonise those men and women who served in the police and military, allowing some equivalence between them and the terrorists who claimed so many lives and caused untold destruction.

“In truth, it is a source of sadness and disappointment that this organisation, Ulster Human Rights Watch, and others, along with some politicians locally and nationally, had to conduct a focused campaign to convince the Government that it was on the wrong course. Without significant amendment, the Stormont House Agreement would deliver further anguish and pain for survivors and victims of terrorist actions.

“Hundreds of these long-suffering people would be re-traumatised for the sake of a grubby political agreement to placate and satisfy republican demands. Mixed messages from the Government left survivors and victims feeling bewildered and abandoned. Their anger was justified.

“At this, the eleventh hour, the Government has accepted this case and the advice I would now offer Ministers is to give this latest report short shrift and hold to its current course. That’s what relatives and survivors of terrorism want, and that is what should be delivered.”

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