Payments for Victims of the Troubles

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

What assessment he has made of the timescale for the implementation of the pension scheme payments for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling

What assessment he has made of progress on implementing the payment scheme for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

What assessment he has made of progress on implementing the payment scheme for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

We welcome the formal designation of the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to provide administrative support for the scheme. Victims should never have had to go to court to see such progress. The Executive must now move to ensure that the scheme can be opened as soon as is practical, so that applications can be processed and payments made to victims who have already waited too long. The implementation of the scheme, including timescales for delivery, is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, but I look forward to seeing them progress this issue as quickly as possible.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Paddy Cassidy and Raymond Trimble have died since the pension and payment scheme became law, and many other victims are extremely ill. I urge my right hon. Friend to do whatever he can to provide the Executive with confidence that money will be forthcoming in the usual way through the block grant. Will he also do everything possible to dispel the horrendous myths that have been peddled about the payment scheme over the past few weeks? The scheme will primarily benefit civilians on both sides of the community who are desperate to have the recognition that they have been promised.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. He was intrinsically involved in driving forward this issue. Words fail me: it should never have taken this long to get to this stage and it should never have taken a court case. My right hon. Friend is quite right that the Northern Ireland Executive are funded for the scheme through the block grant, and he is also quite right that this is about recognising people who have suffered for far too long. He and at least four of the party leaders in Northern Ireland were keen to see this scheme move forward; thankfully, that will now happen—and yes, I will give all the support that I can and that the Northern Ireland Executive need to see the scheme deliver as quickly as possible.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling

I, too, welcome the news that the Department of Justice has been designated to implement the victims’ payment scheme, but does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that it took a court to tell Sinn Féin to stop playing politics and finally designate the Department?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend is right. I have consistently expressed my disappointment—to say the least—at the lack of progress in establishing the scheme, as have the First Minister and others. It was wrong for Sinn Féin to hold up the process of designating the Department. I am pleased that it has now happened, but it is a shame that it took a court case.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

Last week, Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson described victims of the troubles applying for the victims’ payment scheme as

“mainly…those who fought Britain’s dirty war” or were

“involved in collusion.”

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those grossly insulting comments to the victims, many of whom live in my constituency?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The simple answer is yes. Particularly with people having waited so long, to see an insensitive, ill-advised and inappropriate comment like that was the last thing that anybody needed. It should never have been made in the first place, and we should all condemn it and move forward to make sure that victims get what they have morally and legally been waiting far too long for.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

May I begin by reflecting on the fact that this summer we lost the great John Hume, a peace campaigner and politician who, more than any other, is responsible for the peace these islands enjoy today? I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his extraordinary wife Pat, his family and our friends in the Social Democratic and Labour party.

Yesterday would have been the 40th birthday of Tim Parry who, along with three year-old Johnathan Ball, was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993. The peace foundation set up in their name supports victims of terrorism nationwide, but at the end of this month that service will close unless Ministers deliver on the funding that they have promised in the House. In this week, of all weeks, will the Secretary of State step up and secure the future of this vital service?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

First, I join the hon. Lady in her comments about John Hume and his family. I was honoured to be able to attend the funeral, which was a great example of how something can be done so sensitively, delicately and appropriately, even at a difficult time such as with covid. It was a real honour to be there.

As I said earlier, a range of victims have waited too long for things such as victims’ pensions and victims’ payments, so we need to see that moving on. We need to see a whole range of areas moving on. I hope that, with the work we can do with the Northern Ireland Executive, not least with the introduction of the independent fiscal council, we can see the Executive start to allocate their funding and move on with these projects.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I think the Secretary of State may have misheard me: I was talking about the Warrington Peace Centre, which previously enjoyed funding directly from the Home Office. I hope he will consider that and raise it with his colleague the Home Secretary.

The father of Tim Parry, Colin, has said, on the anniversary of his son’s 40th birthday, that the appointment of Claire Fox to the House of Lords offends him deeply. Given her continued refusal to apologise for defending the Warrington bombing, may I ask whether the Secretary of State was consulted on her peerage? Has he raised any concerns with his colleagues in No. 10?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

As I think it has already been outlined, Claire Fox will be sitting as a Cross-Bench peer. She has already provided her own answer to that question, and I will let her words deal with the matter. I will certainly talk to the Home Secretary about the issue that the hon. Lady raises about the funding for the Warrington bombing. What we have seen over the past few weeks is that there is still a need and a determination for us to keep a focus on security issues. I also want to take a moment to pay huge credit to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners for the amazing operation that they ran just two weeks ago, arresting some 10 people, which is probably the biggest step forward that we have seen in a generation in ensuring the peace and security of the people in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the £150 million that has been set aside in the New Decade, New Approach agreement with regard to legacy resolution issues, but the funding of the pension scheme is of concern to all parties, as it was to the Select Committee. Can he confirm that he will ensure that, through the block grant, moneys that are required on top of the £150 million will be forthcoming so that justice can be done and the money paid in a full and timely way?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee is absolutely right. This matter is devolved and it is for the Northern Ireland Executive to pay for through the block grant. Those discussions will go ahead in the normal way, but, as I have said, as the money is already there, this is something that the Executive can be moving on with. They can start getting this process going and start getting these payments out to the people who have already waited too long.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I also thank the Secretary of State for all he has done with regard to the victims’ pension fund. May I ask him to outline what steps have been taken to claw back the money from Sinn Féin that was spent on the court case that took place solely because of Sinn Féin’s refusal to do the right thing and appoint a Minister to oversee the fund. Sinn Féin should pay the legal fees.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The court was clear that the Executive, through their action of not designating, or refusing to designate, a Department, which was down to the Deputy First Minister, were acting illegally. The hon. Gentleman puts forward an interesting proposal, which I am sure that the Finance Ministry, in terms of wanting to make sure that Northern Ireland’s finances are well spent, will consider properly.