Fast-tracking legislation through Westminster has opened the door for “terrorists to apply for a pension” a member of the NI Affairs Committee has warned.
Tory MP Maria Caulfield was commenting after several amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill were pushed through the Commons on Thursday without debate.
Due to only one hour being allocated for the passage of the new bill, the majority of the amendments – relating to highly emotive issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage as well as a pension for injured Troubles victims – were voted through largely unchallenged.
A number of DUP MPs voiced concern during the brief period allocated but the bill was voted through (327-64).
Following the vote, MP for Lewes Ms Caulfield posted a message on Twitter claiming “Brexit obsessed” MPs had not grasped the significance of the legislative changes.
“Parliament voted today to give IRA terrorists compensation without even knowing because most MPs never even read the amendments and were so completely obsessed with Brexit they missed this. Well done everyone,” she said.
When the amendments were debated in the Lords earlier this week, NIO minister Lord Duncan gave an assurance that the bill would only allow a pension for those injured through “no fault of their own.”
However, the wording of the pensions clause stops short of blocking a pension for former terrorists.
It states: “Regulations ... must make provision as to the eligibility criteria for payments under the scheme which may, in particular, relate to: the nature or extent of a person’s injury; how, when or where the injury was sustained ... and whether or not a person has been convicted of an offence”.
Speaking to the News Letter on Friday Ms Caulfield, whose ex-serviceman partner Steve Bell served in Northern Ireland, described Parliament’s handling of the legislative process as “appalling”.
She said: “I’m not being disparaging of MPs, because he majority aren’t from Northern Ireland, but they don’t understand how sensitive an issue this is. The way the bill was done [on Thursday] was appalling.”
Ms Caulfield added: “My understanding is that the Northern Ireland Office believes that they’ve found a way that the definition of a victim can be tightened so that only genuine victims of terrorism, and not those who have taken part in terrorist activity, could apply.
“But if you look at the legislation we have passed, I don’t see that in the wording of the legislation.
“So it does cover people who have been convicted of terrorism – saying their convictions would be looked at as a reason to deny them a pension – but there are people who took part in terrorist activity who were never convicted, so my fear is that they wouldn’t be covered by any of those amendments at all.”
The bill will receive further scrutiny in the Lords on Monday.
• New legislation clearing the way for a pension for those severely injured during the Troubles will not be available to former terrorists, a government minister has insisted.
Responding to claims made by Tory MP Maria Caulfield, NIO minister Lord Duncan pointed out that the House of Lords had “agreed without dissent” that a pension should be made available to victims such as those represented by the WAVE Trauma centre.
The Conservative peer added in a tweet: “Pension will NOT be available to those injured by their own hand. This is NOT a pension for terrorists.”
Concerns around the pension have been raised, as the legislation does not explicitly exclude those with self-inflicted injuries – instead saying the scheme “may” take account of, “the nature or extent of a person’s injury; how, when or where the injury was sustained ... and whether or not a person has been convicted of an offence.”
Speaking to the News Letter on Thursday, unionist peers Lord Morrow and Lord Empey gave a guarded welcome to the new legislation, believing the government reassurance on eligibility could be sufficient to prevent former paramilitaries from receiving payouts.
Among those expressing concern that the wording in the bill will lead to injured terrorists claiming pensions. was Aileen Quinton whose mother was murdered when the IRA bombed Enniskillen in 1987.
Another was Ann Travers, who tweeted: “The man who shot my sister in the back and held a gun to my mum’s forehead, as Mary lay dying on top of her, pulling the trigger twice but the bullets jammed, can now claim for a pension because he may be severely psychologically traumatised.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Government has been clear. This is a pension for those injured ‘through no fault of their own’. It would be wrong to suggest that this is a pension for terrorists.”