Northern Ireland news

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson says there is 'no moral equivalence' between those injured by paramilitaries and the perpetrators

Judith Thompson said there was no moral equivalence between those injured by paramilitaries and the perpetrators of such acts. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

VICTIMS Commissioner Judith Thompson accepts there is "no moral equivalence" between those injured by paramilitaries during the the Troubles and the perpetrators of such acts.

The commissioner's clarification came in a statement issued last night by her office after DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly called for Ms Thompson to be replaced.

It follows weeks of criticism by unionist politicians and some victims campaigners, who argue that the commissioner was wrong to, in their view, advocate pension payments to a handful of people injured while carrying out attacks.

Last month, the commissioner urged Westminster to pass legislation that would pave the way for a pension for people seriously injured during the Troubles.

She said the pension plan, which would see around £5,000-a-year go to hundreds of people left with physical and psychological injuries, had broad political support.

Last night's statement came after Ms Little-Pengelly said Secretary of State Julian Smith needed to ensure the Commission for Victims and Survivors was led by "someone who can command the confidence of innocent victims of terrorism".

The South Belfast representative claimed Ms Thompson had lost the confidence of a "large swathe of the people whom her office is meant to represent".

"It is impossible for her to now carry out her role to the full in these conditions," she said.

Ms Little-Pengelly said although the commissioner operates under a definition of a victim, it did not mean Ms Thompson could not recommend legislative change.

"This is particularly the case for the special pension proposal that would require new legislative criteria," she said.

"The fact she has not done so has disappointed and dismayed many innocent victims."

The commission's statement said the definition of a victim had "always been uncomfortable and contested" but had enabled the creation of a 10-year government strategy and the provision of services for those bereaved and injured in the Troubles .

"In presenting her Victims and Survivors Pensions Arrangement advice as requested by the secretary of state, the commissioner and her office followed the terms of reference agreed between the commission, the Northern Ireland Office and the Executive Office," the statement said.

"At no point did the commissioner address eligibility and nor was she expected to."

The commission said Ms Thompson had always been aware of a perception that the pension arrangements was "somehow drawing a moral equivalence between victims and perpetrators".

"That is not the case – neither the commission recommendations nor the 2006 Order make any reference to moral equivalence: it is a legal definition and the parameters within which the commission must work," the statement said.

SDLP legacy spokeswoman Dolores Kelly defended Ms Thompson and accused Ms Little-Pengelly of "making cheap political headlines".

"The commissioner has the support of the Victims' Forum, which is a diverse range of people both individually and collectively, who have shown greater maturity than the DUP in dealing with this issue," she said.

"There is no moral equivalence between victim and perpetrator but the legislative framework under which the commissioner is working under will allow us to move on."

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