Northern Ireland

Survivors and victims’ commissioner directly links bereaved payments report to passage of UK Government’s legacy act

Ian Jeffers ending tenure with proposal all close relatives of those killed during the conflict receive payment

A number of protests have taken place against the government’s legacy bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
A number of protests have taken place against the UK Government’s legacy bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Outgoing victims’ and survivors commissioner Ian Jeffers on Tuesday directly linked his proposal for payments to all those bereaved during the conflict to the UK Government’s legacy act.

The commissioner ended his tenure by delivering a briefing paper to Stormont supporting such a scheme, detailing how it could operate and even outlining the estimated costings.

But in reviving a plan first proposed under the 2009 Eames-Bradley report on legacy issues, Mr Jeffers explicitly connected the move to the passing of the legacy act scrapping all normal and standard judicial investigations into deaths during the conflict.

Ian Jeffers Commissioner for Victims and Survivors
Ian Jeffers Commissioner for Victims and Survivors (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Jeffers said his office had focussed over the past year on attempting to improve the legacy bill as it passed through the Houses of Parliament.

“Ultimately though, this Act has fundamentally changed the approach that will be taken to legacy cases, and broader issues around truth, justice, accountability and acknowledgement,” Mr Jeffers wrote in the report .

“It is in this context, that we have sought to progress some incredibly significant issues, and particularly the acknowledgement of people who were bereaved as a result of the Troubles.”

Mr Jeffers cited limits to the continuation and commencement of civil compensation claims, while he stressed a one off payment across the board would be an acknowledgement that so far many families have not received.

Alan Bracknell, whose father was killed by loyalists at a bar in Silverbridge, County Armagh, in 1975, told the BBC: “It’s never too late, I suppose. It’s about acknowledgement for me at this stage.”

The proposed scheme laid out a table of different costings depending on how it is delivered, but the lowest amount envisaged would be approximately £130 million based on a lump sum payment of £10,000 to an estimated 13,000 spouses, children, parents and siblings. But the highest costing is £1.2 billion, or £100,000 per person.

Attention on Tuesday focussed on Mr Jeffers’ support for payments to allow those bereaved, including relatives of paramilitaries killed in action. This is the same as the Eames-Bradley report.

But it prompted the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly to respond that it is repugnant to “acknowledge” victim makers in the same way as the victims.

DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly speaking during the DUP’s annual conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly

However, one group representing victims of paramilitary violence had a more nuanced response, with Kenny Donaldson, director of South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) acknowledging those involved in “terrorism/other premeditated criminal violence and their families do require access to support services”

“For those who murdered or injured others with premeditated intent, many are likely to experience the effects of their choices later in life, their mental health is quite likely to be suffering and as a society they should have access to appropriate services, but not now nor in 2006 should this ever have been facilitated via victims funded resources,” Mr Donaldson said.

But Mr Donaldson suggested arbitration with the possible criteria being whether paramilitaries were killed as the result of their own bombs or on actions, those killed by other paramilitaries or members of banned organisations who died, for example, in an unrelated bombing.

Kenny Donaldson, of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said the four families had endured a ‘terrible ordeal of trauma and suffering’
Kenny Donaldson, of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said the four families had endured a ‘terrible ordeal of trauma and suffering’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

He further posited any potential award could be linked to a willingness to disassociate themselves from the violence and illegal activity to which their loved one was connected.

Mr Donaldson added: “There are no controversial issues for circa 84% of those who were murdered/killed as a result of ‘The Troubles’ and support should be advanced for these individuals without delay.”

He further added the Irish Government and “potentially... a role for proscribed terror groups who are amongst the wealthiest criminal organisations across Europe and the World” to help fund any payments.

Mr Jeffers said: “I have no doubt this paper will be contentious. There will be some who find it difficult to accept the idea that all bereaved families should be included, regardless of who their deceased loved one was.”

But the report suggests this scheme would be different from payments to those injured in that the surviving family member is not classified as a “victim-perpetrator”.

More broadly, Mr Jeffers said: “Bereaved victims and survivors have often felt forgotten and pushed aside when it comes to any sort of meaningful acknowledgement of their experience of picking up the pieces and trying to move forward after the death of a close family member.

“We haven’t really as a society formally acknowledged those that have been bereaved, particularly siblings as well,” he said.

“We’ve got to remember that if we don’t address the past, children, grandchildren, will inherit a lot of it, and they will understandably feel a need to try and make some sort of resolve for their family, in trying to get either justice or knowledge or acknowledgement for their family.”

Ms Little Pengelly, of the DUP, said: “The lie that reconciliation somehow demands that victims and their perpetrators be treated the same must be robustly challenged. This is a ridiculous suggestion, and one that causes significant hurt to many victims.”

A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “Support for victims is a devolved matter for consideration by a restored Northern Ireland Executive.”