Hold the celebrations — Don’t cheer just yet!
At least not until we get in the legislation absolute certainty, clarity and transparency around the introduction of a pension for victims and survivors of the terrorist campaign that has blighted a generation.
We have seen the headlines, the government assurances given on the floor of the House of Commons as well as the apparent relief that followed.
Northern Ireland Office Minister, John Penrose MP, said that while it was right and proper to provide a pension for victims of Troubles-related terrorist incidents, “this should not become a pension for terrorists”.
And for good measure, in a further most welcome contribution, Mr Penrose stated that “there is no moral equivalence between a bystander badly injured in a terrorist explosion through no fault of their own, and the people who manufactured the bomb, placed the bomb and detonated the bomb”.
Why, therefore, is the Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service not satisfied with what on the face of it, at least, is an unambiguous Parliamentary statement?
What has changed since the unfortunate and ill-advised recommendation by the Victims’ Commissioner who refused to close the door to terrorists qualifying for pensions?
Pension parity between victims and the perpetrators of scores of murders, bomb attacks, so-called punishment shootings and beatings, abductions and untold economic damage inflicted on Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be an outrage and an insult.
The Urgent Question tabled by the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly extracted from the minister a reply that was required — but only as a first step.
So far, so good, or so it would appear. It is only when you delve into the detail of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, the legislative instrument, that you find a dearth of detail and certainly nothing that matches the weighty and welcome Ministerial words of Mr Penrose.
In fact, the legislation offers no guarantees whatsoever that terrorists will be denied a pension. The devil is in the detail, specifically Section 3(11) and Section 6. According to Section 3 (11), the Secretary of State must publish a report before 4 September ‘on progress towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents’.
This is in line with the ‘interpretation’ of victim and survivor in Article 3 of the Order 2006 — an ‘interpretation’ which clearly and intentionally equates the perpetrator with the innocent victim.
Interestingly, Section 3 (14) provides that the Secretary of State must also publish a report before the 4 September ‘on whether the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 should be revised to apply only to a person who is injured or affected wholly through the actions of another person’.
A report is one thing, but there is no mention here of progress towards legislation for a ‘new definition of a victim’. The likely outcome is that on 4 September we will have proposed legislation for a pension and only an opinion as to whether or not the definition of ‘victim’ should be changed.
As long as the definition of victim is not changed, there is nothing to prevent terrorists from getting the pension whatever ministers may be saying along the way.
In the Ulster Human Rights Watch’s view, this is a very dangerous, if not a deceitful, omission.
There is a definite requirement for nothing less than watertight legislation to prevent perpetrators from benefiting financially. Bad enough that terrorists of whatever hue should cause such heartache and pain, but it would be an act of unspeakable callousness and a double injustice to victims and survivors if they were to gain in any way from their barbarity.
For these reasons, the Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service advises against any premature celebration and instead urges all victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to continue to be vigilant. We welcome the encouraging words at Westminster, but much work remains to be done before 4 September so that the report on the pension for victims will result in the necessary legislation being proposed and enacted, which protects victims of terrorism and does not reward the perpetrators — anything less is not acceptable.
l Robert Campbell is managing director of Ulster Human Rights Watch