The Grand Master of the Orange Order, Edward Stevenson, has hit out at Sinn Fein for hijacking the Victims’ Payment Scheme and delivering ‘a calculated insult’ to innocent victims.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson as he prepares for the Twelfth of July celebrations at home. He criticised the pension delay, to appease republicans.

Speaking ahead of today’s Twelfth celebrations, and as part of the campaign by the News Letter and Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) to pay the pension, Mr Stevenson said innocent victims should not have to wait another day for what was promised.

Backing the scheme in its agreed form, which excludes terrorists injured ‘at their own hand’, the grand master says the United Kingdom government should intervene if local agreement cannot be reached.

Asked how the Orange Order regard the delay that is being experienced in the Victims’ Payment Scheme, he said: “A total of 340 members of the Orange Institution were murdered by terrorists — almost 10% of all of those killed in the ‘Troubles’.

“The youngest Orange victim was 18-years-old, the eldest 86. More than half of those killed were singled out because they were serving the community in the security forces. Others were targeted simply because they were Protestants or members of the Orange Institution.

“In addition to those killed, many thousands of Orange members were left with life-changing physical, mental and emotional injuries because of the terrorist campaign.

“Almost 500 children were bereaved as the result of the death of a parent who was a member of the Orange Institution. In most cases, these murders remain unsolved.”

Mr Stevenson added: “In November 2019, the Orange Institution was pleased to lend its support to those campaigning for the introduction of the Victims’ Payment Scheme. In our comprehensive response we welcomed the long overdue assistance the scheme proposed and the difference that practical intervention could make in the lives of those innocents who were injured mentally and physically by terrorists.

“We are therefore deeply disappointed that this issue has been hijacked by those who wish to equate innocent victims with those who made a conscious decision to engage in acts of terrorism. This is a calculated insult to those who have already endured so much hardship and humiliation over the years and who have gained no comfort or material benefit from successive political agreements seeking to deal with the legacy of the past.”

Asked the impact of this delay having on brethren who may qualify for long overdue payments, Mr Stevenson said: “Many innocent victims and their families have lost hope of ever finding answers or justice. The early release of many of those convicted of some of the worst atrocities coupled with the subsequent revelations around so called ‘letters of comfort’ issued to dozens of terrorists have caused immense hurt, frustration and despair amongst innocent victims.

“The welcome news that the Victims Payment Scheme would not allow those injured by their own actions to benefit was quickly undermined however when Sinn Fein used their political influence to effectively veto the scheme in its proposed form.

“The subsequent delay has further compounded the immense hurt, frustration and anger of innocent victims and their families who have waited so long for official recognition and support for the life changing injuries they have borne in some cases for 50 years.

“In purely economic terms, innocent victims awaiting the implementation of this scheme continue to be financially disadvantaged due to the lack of support. Many have had to shoulder the burden of not being able to work, other have had to meet the cost of adapting their homes to meet their specific needs. Some have been forced to employ carers at their own expense.”

Mr Stevenson continued: “Those who most need help from the proposed scheme have again been painfully reminded that apologists for the terrorist campaign still have the ability to inflict suffering and misery on the lives of their victims, long after the bullet was fired, or bomb detonated.”

Mr Stevenson said that the Order’s message to the NI Executive and the government on this issue was as follows: “The republican movement continues a campaign of re-writing the history of the period known as the ‘Troubles’.

“Their narrative aims to ensure that in future, those who examine the period will consider that the campaign of terror was somehow justified and that all sides share in the blame for the causes and consequences of the period.

“It is therefore entirely predictable that they will seek to amend and further delay a scheme which sets the needs and rights of the victim above those of the perpetrator.”

He added: “Innocent victims should not have to wait another day for what has been promised. If local agreement cannot be reached which allows the immediate implementation of the Victim’s Payment Scheme in its agreed form, we would call on the United Kingdom government to intervene and take steps to ensure that these individuals and families, whose lives have been broken by the actions of terrorists, are supported without any further delay.”

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