Despite significant progress over many years, it is undeniable that there are no easy solutions to some of the challenges that are still to be faced in Northern Ireland.
It has been decades since the height of the Troubles and more than 20 years since the signing of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and yet many of those who continue to live with pain as a result of the injuries they sustained through no fault of their own are still waiting for the recognition and acknowledgement they deserve.
Those individuals have shown tremendous bravery in getting on and living their lives, despite the suffering that they have endured. Their distress has only been compounded by the lack of an acknowledgement scheme. I am acutely aware that what many victims and survivors, several of whom have lived with life-limiting injuries for decades, are looking for is not pity, but recognition. Since I was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland six months ago, addressing this ongoing injustice has been a priority.
The Executive committed to ‘finding a way forward’ on this issue in 2014, yet victims are still anxiously waiting to receive payments. That is why the UK Government provided a way forward on the implementation of a victims’ payments scheme in January – legislating to establish the scheme in the absence of the Executive. Today, we are publishing guidance that will support the independent Board when deciding an individual’s entitlement to a payment.
Stormont is back up and running, and I hope that the Executive will put aside its political differences and progress this scheme by designating a department to process applications and administer payments. It is clear that there remains a moral, and legal, obligation to progress the implementation of the scheme so that payments can finally be made to those who have already waited far too long.
We have always been clear that this scheme should only benefit those who were seriously injured in Troubles-related incidents through no fault of their own, and that those injured at their own hand will not be included.
We believe that the guidance will be helpful in setting out guiding principles to inform the Board’s decisions.
It is not appropriate for payments to be made to people who have a serious conviction for an offence that caused serious harm to others, nor is it appropriate for payments to be made to people who have a recent conviction for a terrorism related offence, whether the offence is serious or not. In the unlikely event that the Board decides to award payments in such cases, despite this guidance being engaged, the Government will reserve the ability to exercise a power to intervene and seek reconsideration.
I firmly believe that this framework for the victims’ payments scheme provides a fair, balanced and proportionate basis for helping those injured through no fault of their own during the Troubles. I therefore call on Sinn Féin to enable the scheme to move forward by urgently agreeing with all the other parties and designating a department.
Not everyone will welcome what we have put in place today. But I think we can all agree that victims injured through no fault of their own have waited far too long already to receive the recognition that they deserve. We are surely all united in our understanding that this is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.