Two legally qualified unionist representatives are at odds over a UK Government assurance that no injured terrorists will benefit from a Troubles pension.
Gavin Robinson and Jim Allister were commenting after legislation rushed through the Commons this week did not specifically exclude former paramilitaries from applying for a payout.
Many terror victims were angered when the final draft of an amendment to the NI (Executive Formation) Bill did not include a specific reference to claimants being injured “through no fault of their own” – that clause having been rejected by the Lords.
While DUP MP Mr Robinson is content that the government can draft the final regulations to ensure that no one engaged in terrorist activity will benefit, TUV leader Mr Allister is adamant that the lack of a “no fault” clause in the existing bill paves the way for payments across the board.
Mr Allister said: “There will be no further bill, there will only be secondary legislation in the form of regulation, and the regulations have to be compatible with the primary legislation.
“If the primary legislation causes you to believe that it’s open to all and sundry who were injured, then the only qualification is that you were injured.”
Mr Allister added: “If the primary legislation says that, then to impose an additional condition in the regulations – namely that it couldn’t be at your own hand. It seems to me to be very dubious that that could be done and would survive a judicial review challenge.”
In contrast, Mr Robinson believes the government, if it lives up to its assurances, can draft the secondary legislation in a way that will exclude terrorist casualties.
“The legislation that has passed only said that the government will bring forward legislation to provide for a pension, so the government will still have to bring forward legislation to enact a pension, and it is in that legislation that you will see that distinction,” he said.
However, the East Belfast MP said, if the NI Executive is restored, then all of the amendments in the bill become null and void, including those legislating for abortion and same-sex marriage,
“If the executive is restored, then all of those amendments pass to the devolved government,” he said.
“I asked the question of [NIO minister] John Penrose in the Commons, I was very clear, that in the circumstances that the [NI] assembly is restored, then there is still a need for the [UK] government to take charge of [the Troubles pension] because there are victims across the United Kingdom, not just in Northern Ireland, and the principle that he has outlined – that only victims, not victim-makers benefit – has to run through.”
The original aim of the bill was to extend the time limit for restoring the executive at Stormont, however, several new, unrelated clauses – including lifting the abortion ban and approving same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – were introduced by MPs against the will of the 10 DUP members.
Many victims of terrorism were angered last week with victims’ commissioner Judith Thompson reiterated her support for a pension for all those severely injured during the Troubles – including former paramilitaries who were injured while carrying out terrorist attacks.
Ms Thompson said her position was in line with the definition of a victim contained in the 2006 Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order.
However, 14 victims’s groups called for her resignation – claiming she would have served their needs better by campaigning for a change in the legal definition.
In response, the commission said she will continue to “communicate...the views of all victims and survivors”.