The government’s official ‘definition of a victim’ is being misinterpreted in a way that risks injured terrorists claiming a Troubles pension, Lord Empey has said.
The Ulster Unionist peer has written to the NIO minister Lord Duncan seeking an “absolute” assurance that the wording in the new legislation cannot be exploited by anyone involved in terrorism.
On Sunday, 14 victims’ groups representing up to 10,000 people called on the victims’ commissioner Judith Thompson to resign over her support for a pension for all those severely injured – including ex-paramilitaries.
Ms Thompson has said her advice to government has been based on the definition of a victim contained in the 2006 Victims and Survivors (NI) Order, which does not differentiate between innocent victims and perpetrators.
However, Lord Empey said a speech by former Labour minister Lord Hain in the Commons last week made it clear that terrorists should not get cash payouts.
Lord Hain, who was NI secretary of state when the 2006 legislation was drafted, told the House of Lords that the definition was designed to ensure adequate access to essential services – not a pension.
“One of the aims of that order was to ensure that everyone impacted by the Troubles would have access to the services that they and their families would need, regardless of their circumstances,” he said.
“We provide those services through the National Health Service and the Victims and Survivors Service, and we will do through a mental trauma service in the future. That is as it should be. We are a civilised society and we do not turn people away from services.
“However, this pension is a very different matter. It is not a service but a recognition of the great harm done to men and women through no fault of their own,” Lord Hain added.
The new legislation – which received Royal Assent in Parliament yesterday – does not explicitly state that terrorists will excluded from the pension scheme, but NIO ministers have issued emphatic verbal assurances that “victim-makers” will not be eligible.
On Wednesday, Lord Empey said: “It was absolutely clear in both houses, that the clear intention of Parliament was that no person who was injured by their own hand would get a pension.
“When we wanted to have the term ‘injured by their own hands’ included in the legislation, the minister said that the Parliamentary draughtsmen were opposed to that as there was some issue with that language.
“Even the prospect of a terrorist receving a pension is so outrageous that people couldn’t cope with it, but we know if the past that people have taken things to court and won, so we have to be absolutely certain that that cannot happen in this case, and that was the point of my letter.”