Former DWP secretary pledges to 'hound' Govt over Troubles pension delays

Former Work and Pensions Secretary, Lord Peter Hain, has demanded that the UK government explain its plans to address delays to the pension scheme for Troubles victims.

In a House of Lords (HoL) debate on the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements, Hain stated that there had been a “savage denial” of rights previously enshrined in legislation, namely, pension payments for victims of the Troubles.

He emphasised that whilst the HoL did not have the power to hold Stormont to account for its "shocking - and illegal - refusal to implement the law", he would "hound" the government until the issue was resolved.

Hain called on the house to "demand" that the UK government explain what they will do to address "this gratuitous insult to victims and survivors, who have suffered so much already through no fault of their own".

“It is now 40 days since the victims’ payments scheme should have been opened for applications but, because of a disgraceful display of political intransigence in the Executive Office in Stormont, some of the most vulnerable men and women in Northern Ireland and beyond have been denied access to it,” he stressed.

The Northern Irish political party, Sinn Fein, has previously denied claims from the UK government that it was responsible for holding up pension payments to victims of the troubles by refusing to appoint a Stormont department to run the scheme.

Baroness Ritchie also commented on the issue, emphasising that the Executive Office had still not appointed a department to implement the scheme, and calling on the secretary of state, via the minister, to ensure a department is appointed as quickly as possible to disburse the funds.

She described the issue as "totally unacceptable, outrageous and one of the egregious problems that has emerged from the current Northern Ireland Executive".

The ongoing delays has already seen victims of the Troubles pursuing legal action over the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to start the planned pension scheme.

Hain commented in particular, on the case of Jennifer McNern, who recently took her case to the High Court in order to seek legal redress from the Executive Office, which had “blatantly defied the law”.

He described the governments response to the case as “disgusting”, stating that the it had “instructed a Queen’s Counsel to argue before a High Court judge that Jennifer’s judicial review against the Executive Office be set aside to allow another, arguably weaker, judicial review to proceed in its place".

Hain continued: "As a former holder of that office, my natural stance is to support my successors. However, I say to Brandon Lewis and his Northern Ireland Office officials: you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves, the lot of you.”

He emphasised that whilst Jennifer’s case will proceed, it cannot be heard until August, six months after the structures to administer the scheme was expected to be in place.

Hain continued: “It is simply not good enough for Ministers to intone that this is a devolved matter and say how awfully sorry they are that things have turned out this way.

"The Secretary of State cannot be allowed to wring his hands and sit on them at the same time.

He concluded: "I will continue to hound this Government until this is resolved and people like Jennifer get the acknowledgement, recognition and payments for which they have had to struggle for far too long.”

Throughout the debate, a number of lords bought attention to the issues facing the pension scheme, with Lord Empey also stating that the rights of those people, guaranteed under section 75, are being “trampled on”.

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