Doug Beattie: Position of Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson untenable

UUP MLA Doug Beattie
UUP MLA Doug Beattie
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Doug Beattie, Jim Allister and the Orange Order have all backed a number of victims’ groups in calling for the NI victims’ commissioner to resign over her stance on a Troubles pension.

The further resignation calls came after 14 bodies signed a statement on Sunday demanding commissioner Judith Thompson step aside – claiming she has refused to “reflect the majority view of victims and survivors,” that former terrorists should not be eligible for any payouts.

Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson has come under pressure from unionists and some victims' groups over the proposed Troubles pension

Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson has come under pressure from unionists and some victims' groups over the proposed Troubles pension

Ms Thompson angered many innocent victims of terrorism last week when she reiterated her support for a pension for all those severely injured during the Troubles, including former paramilitaries.

The commissioner has stated that she is guided by the official definition of a victim – as contained in the 2006 Victims and Survivors (NI) Order – which does not differentiate between victim and perpetrator.

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said Ms Thompson’s position is “untenable,” as she “no longer has the confidence” of a large number of people she is responsible for representing.

“It is bizarre that the commissioner seems unable to grasp just how offensive the idea of treating terrorists and their innocent victims as equals is, and of both being deserving of a victims pension. This has provoked widespread and understandable anger,” he said.

The commissioner no longer has the confidence of many victims. The UUP supports the calls for her resignation

“Last week the UUP said that the victims’ commissioner’s position was untenable after her advice to the government which would allow the perpetrators of terrorism equivalence with their victims in terms of receiving a Troubles pension. It is now clear that the commissioner no longer has the confidence or support of many victims and survivors groups as is outlined as a key requisite in her terms of reference as the victims commissioner. Consequently, the UUP supports the calls for her immediate resignation.”

Mr Beattie also pointed out that one duty of the commissioner is to ‘keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice affecting the interests of victims and survivors.’

He added: “That means that whilst the commissioner does not have the power to change the law, she does have the power to recommend that the law be changed if she believes it to be inadequate or ineffective.

“If she has not realised that the law needs to be changed in the interests of fairness...then it really is time for someone else to take on her role and be an advocate for victims, rather than someone who seeks to hide behind existing legislation and meekly accept an unsatisfactory status quo.”

TUV leader Jim Alllister said the it was a “monumental failure” of the commissioner not to call for a change in the definition of a victim – to one that “removes the current equivalence between victim and victim-maker”.

He said: “I strongly commend and support the collective of 14 innocent victims groups who have called for the resignation of the commissioner.

“The fact that never once during her term of office did she call for the introduction of a definition of a ‘victim’ which removes the current equivalence between victim and victim-maker, is a token of her monumental failure as a supposed victims’ commissioner.”

Mr Allister added: “So, her recent failure to demand that any victims’ pension must only be available to the innocent and not victim-makers, is but the latest in a tenure that has failed to serve innocent victims and in consequence has lost the confidence of that sector. She must go.

“With her term of office drawing to a close, it would be preposterous and a calculated kick in the teeth for innocent victims if she was reappointed.”

A further resignation call has come from the Orange Order, with a Grand Lodge spokesperson saying the commissioner should have challenged the definition of a victim.

“If she has not realised that the law needs to be changed in the interests of fairness, or believes the current law to be sufficient, then it really is time for someone else to take on her role and be an advocate for victims, rather than someone who seeks to hide behind existing legislation and meekly accept an unsatisfactory status quo.

“Quite simply, she has failed in her responsibility to be an advocate for change,” the spokesperson said.

Victims’ commissioner Judith Thompson has not responded to the latest calls for her to resign, however, of Sunday she insisted she will continue to “communicate ... the views of all victims and survivors”.

Commenting after 14 bodies demanded her resignation, Ms Thompson said: “It is entirely understandable that many people are deeply uncomfortable and indeed angry that the definition of a victim as laid down in 2006 could allow someone who has harmed others to be eligible for a pension.

“However, when the secretary of state asked me to update the commission’s 2014 advice on the Victims and Survivors Pensions Arrangement the terms of reference for this advice did not include the issue of the definition of a victim.

“This was because officials recognised that my office operates under the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006; therefore to make recommendations contrary to this legislation would be outside the law.

“It is not in the gift of the commission to change legislation: It is my duty to represent those people who are living on benefits and need this pension to achieve a reasonable standard of life in their advancing years.”

Ms Thompson added: “From the outset I have been clear that to not allow any progress for the overwhelming majority of people who have waited so long for it, due to disagreement around a very small number, is a huge and hurtful disservice to those survivors who have lived with the anxiety of an uncertain financial future.

“I will continue to communicate to politicians at Stormont and Westminster, the views of all victims and survivors as is my statutory duty.”