‘About time’ as funding flows to Troubles pension pot
As some funding is finally found for the long-awaited Troubles pension scheme, a campaigner has urged the government to hurry up before yet more eligible people die.
Michael Gallagher, who became a prominent figure in the wake of the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed his son Aidan and 30 others, was speaking to the News Letter as a £19 million slab of cash was set aside for the pension.
The cash is believed to be among the very first tranches of funding to have been earmarked for the project, which is expected to open to applicants within months.
But while Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy unveiled the money yesterday, it is unlikely to go far – the projected cost of the whole pension fund is anticipated to be more than £1 billion.
Mr Gallagher said that, at long last, the scheme could give him and other people on very low incomes a degree of “freedom” – but that “we need to get a move on”.
“It’s very long overdue,” he said. “I think even since this was first talked about a lot of victims have passed on and they and their families have lost out. The quicker government get the pension up and running, the better.
“The victims are getting older. It’s important they should do this as soon as possible and let people have some kind of life that haven’t had much financial security up to this point.”
Yesterday’s £19m will be given to the Executive Office to pay for first year costs of the scheme, which for years has been dogged by moral arguments about who should be eligible – with some people fiercely opposing any scheme that could reward bombers who injured themselves while on a mission to kill people.
The criteria as it currently stands for the pension (or Troubles Permenant Disablement Scheme as it is known) is online at www.victimspaymentsboard.org.uk .
But in short, it makes no explicit mention of excluding paramilitary perpetrators.
The main criteria is that “your injury (either physical or psychological) as a result of a Troubles-related incident has resulted in permanent disablement” and that “the assessed degree of disablement of the injury is not less than 14%”.
After delays, it is now anticipated to launch on August 31.
The annual payments to individuals could reportedly be up to about £10,000.
Mr Gallagher, of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, said last night that he would intend to apply himself, “because basically I haven’t worked, haven’t earned a wage, in 23 years – that’s the effect of the trauma of being bereaved in the Troubles and being seriously injured”.
He was 49 at the time of the bombing, and had worked as a mechanic with his son in their small car repair business.
“I’m surviving at the minute on £147 a week,” he said, adding that this is his pension.
“You’ve got to watch every penny you spend. It’d give you a little bit of financial freedom which would be very welcome.
“In fact I’d say most of the people who’d be applying for this pension are people who at the moment are surviving on benefits.”
But at the same time he said a serious examination needs to happen of “the whole victim industry” and that government must ensure “we’re not creating a gravy train here”.
He added: “The people who were not involved on any side, those need to be the people that benefit from it.”
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