Northern Ireland news

Concerns raised about Troubles pension 'intelligence' briefings

Christy Cummings pictured with his son Rory
Connla Young

CONCERNS have been raised that officials in charge of the controversial Troubles pension scheme will receive intelligence briefings in disputed cases.

A political row erupted last week over delays in introducing a pension for victims of the Troubles after Sinn Féin failed to nominated the Department of Justice to oversee the scheme.

Republicans believe the guidelines go beyond what is in the legislation and say they discriminate against ex-prisoners who were injured during the Troubles.

Those who fall into that category can still apply and a board presided over by a judge will consider their application.

Draft guidelines suggest that a person is not entitled to a victims' payment where the “President of the Board consider that the exceptional circumstances of the case, having regard to material evidence, make entitlement to victims’ payments inappropriate.”

Some believe the reference to “material evidence” means intelligence.

Provision has also been made for the Secretary of State to issue “guidance to the board regarding the circumstances in which a relevant conviction or exceptional circumstances makes entitlement to victims’ payments inappropriate”.

In a letter to party leaders at Stormont and Westminster, Relatives for Justice chief executive Mark Thompson voiced concern about the impact of the briefings.

“They will also be able to receive a detailed briefing “gist” of information from “intelligence” on behalf of the Secretary of State in seeking to deny a potential applicant to the scheme,” he said.

“The latter, a gist, would not constitute the breaching of an applicants human rights."

He said he was concerned that the scope and margins for "a sleight of hand by the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) in seeking to deny applicants is very real and must not be permitted".

Meanwhile Kevin Winters of KRW Law has written to Brandon Lewis to seeking “further information about the processes that will be applied by the Board when it comes to determining eligibility for a victim’s payment”.

One of his clients Christy Cummings (63), from Cookstown in Co Tyrone, served almost 11 years behind bars for an offence he says he did not commit and is now confined to a wheelchair after being shot by loyalists.

His case is currently being considered by then Criminal Case Review Commission.

Eleven years after his release from prison in December 1997 he was shot and paralysed in a LVF gun attack, believed to involve collusion, outside the Glengannon Hotel, near Dungannon.

Mr Cummings feels as if he is now being victimised for a third time.

“I feel like a victim because I was totally innocent outside the hotel that night,” he said.

“I feel like I have been victimised several times.

"The actions of me and my colleagues that night saved hundreds of lives.

"I have never been given compensation for the way I have been left by the state and now they are going to deny me this pension."

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