RFJ Chair Clara Reilly Speaks Out on RUC Bereavement Payments
Equality must be at the heart of and underpin any agreed political process yet for the vast majority of ordinary people who were bereaved and injured by the conflict this has not been the case. They have had to continually watch virtually every process to date address the ever increasing list of issues raised by political unionism on behalf of ‘their armed forces’ above and beyond the concerns of the silent majority of victims and survivors and their competing needs.
In the wake of this week’s announcement that every RUC family bereaved are to receive twenty thousand pounds we reflect on the preferential treatment to this constituency involved in the conflict – to date there has been;
· Patten severance payments for the RUC estimated to reach the billion pound mark with an average payment of between 116k – 230k (Source- Irish Times April 22nd 2009 & Freedom of Information requests);
· 11 million to the George RUC Cross Foundation;
- RUC Widows pension scheme receiving a special dispensation in being permitted to retain their widows pensions in the event of remarrying;
- Annual payment of 1.8 million for the NI Police Fund;
- Payments totaling almost 11.5 million pounds up until September 2008 on hearing loss claims;
- Five thousand serving and retired members of the RUC/PSNI, including its reserve, claiming for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with average claims from 5k to 300k – Nb. a PTSD diagnosis is not readily available or easy to access for the civilian population;
- One British soldier after serving five tours of duty in the north received 620k;
- UDR/RIR 250 million payment package for former members – average payment 42,470 for a private, Lance Corporal 77,314, and a Major 151,211;
- Part-time RIR a further 6.7 million payment – with payments from 14k to 150k depending on rank – and the list goes on.
Nor does the above list consider the many specialist groups and organisations specifically funded to cater for former members of these forces, or the multiple groups that mushroomed in opposition to the Good Friday Agreement within their communities that are also funded. The phrase duplication of resources springs to mind.
It is also worth bearing in mind that numerous civilians who were threatened by non-state groupings, many whose details were ‘leaked’ to loyalists, have been continually refused financial support in terms of having to secure and/or up-root and move home.
Now that is not to say that anyone affected by the conflict within state groupings are not entitled to support. I am of the clear view that irrelevant of the circumstances everyone affected should receive adequate support to meet their needs.
However, this is not the case concerning state forces and the reality is that support is one-way in terms of addressing their needs. Those needs are significantly less than the needs of those living with chronic pain, amputees, those paralyzed, blind and partially sighted to list some. A justifiable argument is that the situation is beyond that of being absolutely ridiculous with even ordinary unionists affected by the conflict now questioning the hierarchy within their own community.
In this latest agreement Arlene Foster announced that twenty million pounds would be made available to the RUC Reserve with Sammy Wilson further stating on the BBC that this was ‘a reward for their service’. And with parading at the heart of recent talks the irony that it was the RUC Reserve that were involved in some of the worst human rights violations and who assisted the forcing through of sectarian parades was not lost.
A further 12 million pounds has been set aside for the next financial year from the budget agreed at Hillsborough to address hearing loss claims by members of the RUC/PSNI.
This is quite a lucrative gravy train to be on as many can obtain their severance claims, PTSD claims, and hearing loss claims in addition to pensions – huge payments to people who have not been bereaved nor have life diminishing injuries and yet who played contentious role in the conflict creating thousands of victims.
I am not going to rehearse all of the systemic human rights abuses that these same forces were involved in during the course of their ‘duties’. Our community, and indeed to an extent from a differing perspective loyalist working class areas, know it only too well. Groups like Relatives for Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre are supporting families and individuals from across the community to seek the truth and support people living, and coping, with the traumatic after affects of their experiences.
Our focus is the search for truth, but ordinary people affected by the conflict are also living in extreme poverty as a consequence of their experiences and they continually ask where the equality agenda is when they see the people responsible for their loss and injury being constantly rewarded whilst their needs as the injured and bereaved are not being met.
Reparations are an important part of transition and must happen within a process of recognition and acknowledgement in a way that is equal for all. Ideally this should happen within a truth recovery process. This has clearly not been the case and the equality agenda is not only absent but smacks of everything that is one-sided, political, and wrong.
The only scheme that can currently financially assist victims and survivors is the Memorial Fund which is limited and restrictive often only able to annually assist people at best with a couple of hundred pounds after jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops and tape that acts as a disincentive for many in need. And which applies its own definition of a ‘victim’ rather than the inclusive statutory definition even though it is in receipt of public finances. Of course many within the ‘security forces’, especially those with a PTSD diagnosis, also avail of this scheme too.
In terms of hearing loss it would be interesting to ascertain precisely the circumstances in which many of these cases are being taken. Presumably the core of the claims arises from training in the use of firearms and plastic bullets including actual deployment. Given that thousands of civilians have been hit and injured, including people killed, by plastic bullets could it be that any payments resulting from the negligent use resulting in compensation payments to civilians that those same officers responsible would not be entitled to make claims? And that this could by chain of command be extended to all those responsible in authorizing their use.
Or those civilians who heard shooting by the RUC or lived within ear-shot, no pun intended, in these same areas and who did not have helmets and earmuffs provided could be entitled to make claims from the Policing Board?
Or that civil actions against individual members of the RUC who are to benefit from these millions and who were involved in making threats, harassment, raiding and wrecking homes, leaking files to loyalists, not to mention running agents involved in murder and then covering up, could be pursued by those on the receiving end of these practices.
Might strike you as ridiculous but isn’t that exactly what is happening within the ranks currently whilst actual victims and survivors needs are not being met?
And yet when Eames/Bradley dared to raise the specter of this financial need through a Recognition Payment, albeit only for the bereaved, representatives of this same ‘security’ constituency, including political unionism, were the most vocal rejecting it – effectively having a veto.
There needs to be a radical rethink that takes into consideration the social and economic circumstances of all those affected by the conflict particularly those living with diminishing physically injuries from across the community.
The Eames/Bradley Recognition Payment needs to be back on the agenda and progressed in real consultation with those bereaved and injured. If millions can be made readily available for state organisations directly involved in the conflict – if the cause of savers and investors in the Presbyterian Mutual can even be championed – then surely we can create a special reparations fund, and a charter for victims’ rights, for those left out and left behind.
The issue of equality must underpin and be at the heart of any agreed process otherwise it is meaningless for victims and survivors of the conflict.