DUP’s ‘terrorist benefits’ furore

UUP MLA Andy Allen and his party leader Mike Nesbitt opposed the legislation
UUP MLA Andy Allen and his party leader Mike Nesbitt opposed the legislation

The UUP and TUV say they were shocked to see a DUP minister and Sinn Fein push changes through Stormont which give terrorists injured by their own hands “obscene” benefits rights equal to those of people they maimed.

The claims came after the Assembly voted 54 to 13 this week to pass the draft Welfare Supplementary Payment (Loss of Disability Living Allowance) Regulations.

Among those who opposed the legislation were UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and TUV leader Jim Allister.

The legislation, proposed by DUP minister Peter Weir, was strongly supported by Sinn Fein MLAs.

UUP communities spokesman Andy Allen MLA said that over 47,000 people were injured in the Troubles. Many need support through new assessments, he said, as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by the new Personal Independent Payment (PIP).

However, his party “does not agree that those injured by their own deliberate actions should receive preferential treatment compared to those with other disabilities”.

He was therefore “shocked and angered on Monday evening when a DUP minister, with the assistance of Sinn Fein MLAs, forced through the recommendation of the Evason welfare working group” which will see former terrorists who are no longer entitled to PIP receiving additional top-up points and continuing to receive payment for a further 12 months. This decision will “anger and dismay” people with non-Troubles related disabilities who lose out in the assessment process, he added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the legislation “introduces the most obnoxious and repulsive idea that, when it comes to topping up PIPs to guarantee the continuance of benefit, the perpetrator of a terrorist act who causes his disability by his own hand, is to be rewarded on a par with the innocent victim on whom he may have inflicted injury.”

He added: “I am astounded that a minister from the DUP benches is bringing forward such an obscene proposal.”

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said they opposed “any overt or covert policy or action which equalises innocent victims with perpetrators”.

He added: “We do not deny any citizen the most basic rights to health and welfare services irrespective of who they are or what they have done. As citizens of this nation they have such entitlement. However, what is not an entitlement for terrorists/perpetrators is to receive preferential treatment.”

But DUP MLA Emma Pengelly said the debate hangs on the current definition of victim - which is defined in statute and was a legacy of direct rule under the UUP.

One of those who criticises the new legislation “would take Northern Ireland back to direct rule and ensure there could be no change to the definition of a victim”, she said, while the other is a UUP member of the Social Development Committee which considered the legislation prior to the election “yet offered no opposition to it at that time”.

She added: “Did the UUP’s concerns only arise when they entered opposition?”

DUP MLA Lord Morrow said he has submitted a proposal to change the definition via a Private Member’s Bill.