Fresh bid to elevate victims over terrorists in legislation

First Minister Arlene Foster with DUP colleague Lord Maurice Morrow, who is proposing to change the definition of victim through the Assembly
First Minister Arlene Foster with DUP colleague Lord Maurice Morrow, who is proposing to change the definition of victim through the Assembly

The DUP is launching a fresh bid to change the statutory definition of victim which makes no distinction between terrorists injured by their own hand and the people they targeted.

The DUP have consistently opposed the 2006 Victims and Survivors Order, but in January First Minister Arlene Foster agreed to implement welfare reforms which accepted the definition - favouring anyone injured in the Troubles regardless of their involvement in terrorism.

The scheme, which relates to the new personal independence payments, was proposed by DUP minister Peter Weir on Monday and passed with support from Sinn Fein.

However, DUP MLA Lord Morrow responded to criticism of his party’s role in the move, telling the News Letter that he had ensured proposals were submitted on the first day of this Assembly term to change the definition through a Private Member’s Bill.

He has received confirmation it will be taken forward by the Assembly, he said.

“Whilst this process obviously requires majority support within the Assembly, currently there is no party with the strength to block it single-handedly.” he said.

Upper Bann UUP MLA Doug Beattie said the DUP have held the First Minister’s office for nine years and should have made the changes by now.

“Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy sought to legally change the definition of a victim in 2008 as the Commission for Victims and Survivors Bill was passing through the Assembly,” he said. “Unfortunately the then DUP Speaker inexplicably decided not to select their amendment for debate and consideration.”

The DUP said it would change the definition in 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015, he added.

“The DUP know full well that the only way they can now succeed in changing the definition of victim is if they can persuade their coalition partners to support such a proposal.”

Similarly, a TUV spokesman said the DUP had made similar promises before which were not fulfilled.

“If legislation comes forward to change the definition of a victim TUV will, of course, support it,” he said.

“We would, however, observe that that is a promise which the DUP make periodically but have failed to deliver.”

He added: “On Monday DUP MLAs voted for regulations drafted by a DUP minister which drew no distinction between the innocent victims of terrorism and terrorists.

“This seriously undermines the case for a change to the definition.”

Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson said: “If the latest Private Members Bill tabled is a genuine attempt to redress an injustice and is being developed in a manner which will secure support from across the floor of the Assembly then we welcome this, we want to see responsible debate on these matters. We have devised wordage for an alternative definition and we stand ready to engage with those serious about changing the current definition which is an affront to basic principles of right and wrong and which delivers political revisionism”.

He said that IVU’s 11,500 innocent victims and survivors of republican and loyalist terrorism, the former Justice Spokesman for the SDLP Alban Maginness, the leaderships of the main churches and GAA, former Archbishop Robin Eames, all unionist political parties and other individual nationalist political representatives all support a change in the definition.

He added: “How would people respond if paedophiles were understood in law to be ‘victims’ alike the vulnerable children they harmed?

“IVU accepts that there are individuals who engaged in acts of terrorism and also individuals within the security forces who stepped outside the law who may require support around areas of mental health and wellbeing and welfare. But such services cannot and should not be provided under a process which lies about their reasoning for requiring that support.”