Human rights body seeks interim payments for victims

Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) is to seek a meeting with the Justice Minister to ask if it would be possible to make interim payments to innocent victims of terrorism before Christmas.

The Minister, in a BBC radio interview, said it could take up to eighteen months before payments are made and that the cost of the scheme could increase to £800 million.

The Executive Office designated the Department of Justice to administer the scheme following the critical High Court Judgement last week.

UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “This designation was welcome. It swept aside one of the major obstacles to the full operation of the scheme which was meant to have commended on the 29th May.

“What is not such welcome news is that it could be another year and a half before payments are made. A delay of this magnitude is hard to fathom and many innocent victims will be further disappointed and incensed.

“Why will it take so long? Surely the Minister and her senior civil servants have put all the necessary building blocks in place so that further unnecessary and bureaucratic delays can be avoided?

“Ulster Human Rights Watch would like to think the Justice Department could open a dedicated section within the Department to fast-track applications, assess claimants suffering from psychological conditions such as PTSD, and get payments made a lot sooner than eighteen months.

“We also wish to understand the funding stream – where the money’s coming from – and how the Department will actually go about operating the scheme. In addition, we have questions around the Victims’ Payment Board and the guidance that was issued by the Government.

“We know the Minister is sympathetic to the plight of innocent victims. Surely, it is possible for the Department to set up an Interim Payment process where victims could be awarded a one-off sum of £2,000 which could be paid before Christmas. Such a gesture would be well received and be a tangible demonstration of goodwill and understanding towards victims.”

UHRW calls for ‘definite timeframe’ for victims’ payments following High Court Ruling

Ulster Human Rights Watch, which campaigns on behalf of innocent victims of terrorism, has welcomed the decision of the High Court to order the deputy First Minister to stop blocking the implementation of the Victims’ Payment Scheme.

Reacting to the ruling, UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “This ruling leaves no room for doubt and no justification for delaying the scheme any longer.

“The Executive Officer (TEO) has been ordered by the High Court to get on with nominating a Department to oversee the scheme. The Department of Justice has indicated its willingness to perform this function, so it’s now time to get on with the work.

“I do hope there will be no more obstacles placed in the way of the scheme which was due to be introduced in late May. Months of delaying tactics over who qualified as a victim have resulted in further anguish for innocent victims of terrorism and that was a deplorable and mean thing to do.

“The Guidelines published by the Government state the criteria to be adopted for awarding annual payments and a Panel will make determinations.

“What’s needed now is a statement from the Executive Office that Ministers will publish a definite timeframe that lets innocent victims know when they can expect what they are entitled to under the scheme.”

Parties asked to state position on delayed Victims’ Payments Scheme

Ulster Human Rights Watch is asking all political parties who oppose terrorism at Stormont to state clearly what their position is on the Victims’ Payment Scheme 75 days from the date it was due to be implemented.

The scheme was left in limbo in late May as a result of a dispute over who can benefit from the scheme since the legislation appropriately distinguishes between victims and perpetrators.

Today, the human rights charity, which is based in Lurgan, said it is time the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly ‘stepped up to the plate’ and announce where they stand.

UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “We have reached this shameful milestone of 75 days without the Victims’ Payment Scheme being implemented.

“Hundreds of innocent victims of terrorism have been left in a bad place because of the political failure to get on with what Westminster passed into legislation. The Northern Ireland Executive has failed them.

“This failure leaves many feeling they have been re-traumatised, abandoned and shunted to the sidelines as some politicians argue over something that has already cleared all legislative hurdles.

“Ulster Human Rights Watch believe the time is right to call on all parties who adhere to democracy and oppose terrorism to publicly state their positions on the scheme.

“Let’s see if positions are the same as they were in May. If they remain deadlocked, one of the following things could be done: either the Northern Ireland Executive takes the decision to forge ahead with the introduction of the scheme on the basis of majority support or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can step in to ensure the administration of the scheme is delivered by Westminster.

“The delay is unconscionable, mean-spirited and reprehensible. It bestows no credit on those who want to amend the legislation to lend legitimacy to terrorists who delivered a lifetime of pain, agony and distress to tens of thousands of innocent victims.

“We are waiting for the political parties who stand on democratic principles to give victims of terrorism the clarity they deserve.”

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