Northern Ireland

Kathryn Stone: Pension for Troubles victims needed 'immediately'

Kathryn Stone
Image caption Kathryn Stone said the paper represented "real and practical actions" for victims

A pension for those severely injured during the Troubles should be implemented immediately, the NI Victims Commissioner has said.

Kathryn Stone made the recommendation following the publication of an advice paper on dealing with the past.

The first and deputy first ministers have had the paper since 28 March.

First Minister Peter Robinson said he would not be "putting my hand to any proposal that is going to reward those that have been engaged in terrorism".

The paper makes four recommendations, including a pension and arrangements for official apologies to all victims.

Ms Stone said the proposals "represent real and practical actions that will meet the needs of victims and survivors".

Image caption Peter Robinson said definitions were "important" in the context of victims

She added: "I am recommending that action be taken immediately to implement the pension and an acknowledgement unit that will provide official apologies to victims and survivors who have never had any formal recognition of their pain and suffering."

The paper is the result of two years of consultation with victims groups and individuals.

It also took into account a major conference in February that featured the largest ever representation of victims.

As well as a pension and official apologies, the paper proposes the formation of an Information Retrieval Commission and a Historical Investigations Unit.

Ms Stone said it was important that people seriously injured during the Troubles were adequately compensated so they could live with dignity.

"The main focus for the idea of a pension for those people who were seriously injured is to afford them some dignity," she said.

"The compensation payments they received during the 1970s were derisory and went very quickly.

"For me, there is nothing worse than trying to explain to someone they can't have financial security because there is still political discussion about who is entitled to it."

Mr Robinson, the Democratic Unionist Party leader said: "Throwing an idea like that out is one thing.

"Agreeing what the detail of it should be is something entirely different.

"I will not be putting my hand to any proposal that is going to reward those that have been engaged in terrorism.

"So definitions become important in that context."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he supported Ms Stone's proposal for a pension for those severely injured in the Troubles and said that no matter who the victim was, their families deserved support.

Political will

The ideas are broadly similar to recommendations in the stalled Haass proposals.

Ms Stone said the original Haass proposals were "fundamentally informed by the commission's detailed presentations to the Haass team".

She added: "We cannot wait any longer to answer the call for action from victims and survivors.

"I believe there is the political will to meet the needs of victims and survivors, that needs to be translated into action and that action must be now."

Ms Stone is set to leave her role as victims commissioner at the end of June.

Jude Whyte, a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum, said: "The vast bulk of people who we are trying to get pensions for have been severely injured many years ago."

He welcomed the idea of letters of apology to victims.

"I think saying sorry can be a very liberating experience for the person who says sorry," he said.

"And if the people who are receiving the apology will take it in the context, I think it's a very positive thing."

Same mistakes

However, Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said he foresaw problems with the proposals.

"It's unfortunate that the same mistakes have been made as were made in [the] Eames/Bradley [report on the past].

"It's unfortunate that the commission has put forward a document where the whole issue around a perpetrator and an innocent victim still is not dealt with.

"That will be a problem."

The SDLP's Alex Attwood said Ms Stone's recommendations should be fully considered.

"The proposal for financial assistance for those injured is not the Eames-Bradley proposals of payment to victims - it should not be viewed as such," he said.

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