Northern Ireland news

Victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA attacks 'need answers before they die

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi supplied Semtex explosive and other weapons to the IRA
Richard Wheeler, Press Association

BRITISH officials have been likened to a bucket of "slippery eels" over their repeated failures to guarantee compensation for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA attacks.

DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr insisted it is "impossible" to get a straight answer from Whitehall as he warned many victims need answers and a settlement before they die.

He urged ministers to "take a risk for peace" by agreeing to use British cash to compensate families and victims, knowing around £9.5 billion of Libyan assets are currently frozen in the UK.

Under Mr Paisley's proposal, the British government would then reclaim its money when a new government of national unity in Libya is fully established - by the two parties coming to an agreement over how much of the seized assets are returned.

The regime of former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi supplied Semtex explosive and other weapons to the IRA, with attacks including the 1996 London Docklands bombing.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Paisley Jr said he appreciated there are difficulties in dealing with the Libyan government given the circumstances in the country.

But he added: "Can I also put on the record there has been difficulties dealing with successive governments of Her Majesty.

"I don't know if you've ever tried to fish eels from a bucket of water but it's an incredibly difficult task, and trying to get your hands on some people in the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and getting your hands on the Government to give a straight answer, successive governments to give a straight answer, to many of the issues that victims genuinely put on the table.

"It's like putting your hand into that bucket and trying to catch a slippery eel. It's practically impossible to get straight answers and I think the purpose of today's debate starts to get to the point where victims have waited long enough for answers.

"They are sick and tired of the dilly-dallying and the delays. Many of them are coming to - let's face it - the latter years of their lives and they need answers before they pass the immortal tide, and I think we need to face up to that and face up to it pretty darn fast."

Mr Paisley Jr said "life-changing injuries require life-changing levels of compensation" before he suggested that the UK put forward the cash before claiming it back from Libya at a later date.

He told the debate: "That will allow us to expedite compensation, to resolve this matter, to allow the victims to move on and to put this, thankfully, once and for all behind us and it'll allow the Government to concentrate on setting up the new government in Libya.

"On that basis, the Government will have solved the issue. They're not spending the seized assets but they're recognising that one day those seized assets will be spent on the victims."

A law proposed in the Lords by Ulster Unionist Party's Lord Empey wants to allow the Treasury to prevent the release of frozen assets owned by those involved in supplying arms to terrorist organisations until a settlement is reached with their UK victims.

This has a particular focus on those attacks linked to Gaddafi's regime.

Earlier in the debate, Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) said Conservative former minister Norman Tebbit had received a "very pitiful" sum of compensation.

Lord Tebbit was injured along with his wife during the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, which targeted the Conservative Party conference.

Tory Sir Gerald said: "Some people were compensated and I had a chat with Lord Tebbit, who everybody knows suffered so horrendously and especially his wife suffered even more horrendously than he did.

"He has been compensated but the level of compensation was very pitiful indeed and so it isn't simply a question of those who have received none, it's also a question of those who have received some compensation being adequately compensated."

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