United pressure on Sinn Féin may be needed to break the legacy payments deadlock. Their own will benefit

dFM Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin

Has Martina Anderson’s outburst distracted attention away from the substantive issue of the legacy payments deadlock, or given a boost to resolving it, following the court case requiring Michelle O’Neill in effect to remove her veto or exercise her option to resign?

The scheme covers violence related to the Northern Ireland Troubles between 1966 and 2010, including incidents in Great Britain and Europe.. . People will get between £2,000 and £10,000 a year for the rest of their lives. Upon their death, a spouse or carer, will get the payments for a further 10 years. The scheme is a recognition that criminal injuries awards from decades ago were largely inadequate. 

 Justice has been nominated as the sponsoring department through which payments would be made, but a money resolution of the Assembly is still needed to implement it. The issue has since gone ominously quiet. Is this the calm before another storm that could again threaten the Assembly’s existence? Sinn Féin thrown on the defensive is no guarantee of their giving way.

More likely the parties are still mulling over their next move for cutting through the thicket of issues which by their nature cannot all be cut and dried before implementation.

Newton Emerson has demolished Sinn Féin’s specific objections.

Most injured former IRA members, including those with serious convictions, can expect to qualify for the pension. They will not qualify if they injured themselves but that is an exclusion that applies to everyone.

Nearly all will if being ‘pro peace process’ is judged to meet the “positive behaviour” threshold in the guidelines. Troubles pension may only be judged “inappropriate” where an applicant has either (a) injured themselves or (b) seriously injured/killed another person and not demonstrated “remorse, restitution or positive behaviour since”. “Continuing disregard for the law” is also considered. The conditions will mainly catch active dissidents and loyalists..

Perhaps what is driving this persistent misrepresentation of the scheme is that even Sinn Féin realises it cannot justify holding payments up for thousands of victims in order to fight a narrative battle around a handful of extreme cases

As Allison Morris of the Irish News points out, the traumatised bereaved and  others  suffering  “ secondary trauma” who didn’t witness the attack regardless of how serious, are ruled out completely. A new Victims Commissioner will not be allowed to let that pass.

As the BBC’s Julian O’Neill reports in a fact file, the source of funding a notional  £800 million is  the still  the subject of a tussle between Westminster and Stormont. The total bill is bound to be an estimate until applications have been made and the total number granted with each amount is known. Neither administration wants to write a blank cheque.

Still,  serious obstacles look like being gradually and quietly removed

Although the ex UU MP and ex service man Danny Kinahan  has been appointed to the new  a new post of  Veterans Commissioner, Sinn Fein have not supported Anderson’s  claim that  the security forces will be given preferential  treatment

Objections to the UK government’s proposal for a “ desk top review” of security forces cases have been muted. The transitional justice team of local academics have declared that the process would be human rights compliant provided legal process was fulfilled, even with immunity from a prison sentence to follow.

If Sinn Fein were to remain obdurate, pressure should be exerted on them by all the other parties  uniting to  move an Assembly resolution approving a funding resolution in principle to trigger the payments,  shaming them into compliance, if only for the sake of  hundreds of their own supporters.

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