First Minister to press ahead with welfare plan despite paramilitary reservations

Arlene Foster has voiced displeasure at the controversial aspect of the scheme
Arlene Foster has voiced displeasure at the controversial aspect of the scheme

The new First Minister has voiced her unhappiness at the fact some former paramilitaries may receive preferential treatment under DUP-Sinn Fein welfare plans, but said she intends to press ahead with them.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was last night quoted as saying that the “vast majority” of those getting the welfare entitlement boost would be innocent victims, not those linked to violence.

According to the BBC, she said that allowing ex-paramilitaries to avail of the scheme too was “something that is out of my control to change”.

She was speaking following the emergence of detailed plans aimed at cushioning the blow of upcoming changes to the benefits system.

Plans are in motion to replace the existing Disability Living Allowance benefit with Personal Independence Payments, or PIPs (the introduction of which has already happened on mainland UK).

In order to qualify for the new PIPs, Northern Irish welfare recipients will have to be assessed as scoring eight “points”.

But a report published this week expressed concern that the new arrangement may not adequately take into account the legacy of the Troubles.

As such, it is proposed that anyone with a conflict-related injury or ailment, who has already qualified for four points under the new assessment regime, will automatically receive an extra four points – taking them straight up to the full eight points required to qualify.

The report adds: “The payments should be for a period of one year.”

However, no distinction is drawn between a civilian who has lost a limb in a bombing, for example, and someone who was injured during the course of planting that bomb.

As reported on Thursday, the TUV had called the idea “scandalous” and “perverse”.

On Friday night, the BBC quoted Arlene Foster as saying: “Do I welcome the fact that there is a very small number of people who, by their own hand, have received injuries and will receive this treatment?

“No, I don’t. But that’s a question for us to change the victim definition. [The definition of a Troubles victim] was based on Westminster legislation, something that is out of my control to change.”