Anonymity not a simple solution to pensions for seriously injured victims
Opinion piece by Luke Moffett appeared in the Irish News 2 October 2019
Free Presbyterian Minister David McIlveen (September 28) has suggested that compensation for those seriously injured can be simply solved by making those claiming it anonymous. However, such a simplistic approach overlooks that such a process would be a private one anyway in practice. It overlooks that victims will self-exclude themselves from claiming such measures where people who injured them will benefit, as they do not want to be equated with them, thus risking failing to provide for those who need it. Under the Victims and Survivors Service individuals who are injured members of paramilitary groups can benefit from services and payments. Yet the number of individuals who were members of paramilitary or state forces who were convicted and injured remains a very small number.
Compensation as a form of reparation is recognised under our own and international law as a means to acknowledge the harm caused to victims and provide them with an adequate remedy. It is not charity nor assistance, but a right for those who have suffered unlawful violation of their rights. Treating the issue of the pension as simply anonymous, silences victims, makes them faceless and continues to marginalise them to settle their morals and take the money. This risks the pension being an insult or blood money, rather than an acknowledgment and remedy for their harm.
The suggestion put forward by the Northern Ireland Office is to exclude those who are injured and convicted in the same incident. This would likely exclude individuals such as Sean Kelly, convicted for the Shankill bombing, which he was injured in. However, many individuals involved in violence during the Troubles, were either not convicted or not injured in the incident they were convicted of. Thus they could be eligible. UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff in his 2016 report on Northern Ireland suggested that the issue of the pension could be solved by providing a pension for those seriously injured and a separate programme for ex-combatants to address their needs. Indeed I have suggested that a person who has a conviction and is seriously injured could come before a review panel or conduct committee to be assessed on their needs, in particular mental health support, carers and a support payment, rather than being equated with civilians.
There is also a bigger issue of the inadequacy of compensation that was paid to bereaved families. After nearly 50 years the Bloody Sunday families are starting to be compensated, but these proceedings have been dragged through the courts to receive a fair payment that recognises the death of their loved one.
However, as with many other victims, such processes are adversarial and undignified, rather than remedying victims harm in a comprehensive manner. This is a bigger problem of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland by using ordinary justice mechanisms, which were never adequate to respond to the scale of the violence or its political nature, and has led to many further injustices for victims.
As a society we continue to fail those who suffered the most during the conflict and are left to carry the burden in the peace.
We need to be mature to find a solution that can remedy the harm of these individuals before it is too late.