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Sinn Féin MLA apologises following criticism for 'disgusting' comments on Troubles victims pension

Martina Anderson said the money was mainly for “those who fought Britain’s dirty war in Ireland”.

Martina Anderson and Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill
Martina Anderson and Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill
Image: PA Images

Updated Aug 26th 2020, 10:37 AM

SINN FÉIN MLA Martina Anderson has apologised after she faced widespread criticism for saying that a compensation scheme for injured Troubles victims would “discriminate, criminalise and exclude”. 

Earlier, politicians and victims campaigners had call on Anderson to apologise. 

In a now-deleted tweet, Foyle MLA and former MEP Anderson said the money was mainly for “those who fought Britain’s dirty war in Ireland”.

Her comments were made after Justice Minister Naomi Long said the scheme could cost up to £800 million. 

Anderson also said the money would mostly go to “those involved in collusion”.

This morning, Anderson tweeted to say that she apologised “unreservedly for the hurt and offence caused by my tweet to people who suffered serious harm during the conflict here”. 

“My comments were clumsy” and “were not directed at them and it was never my intention to cause them any hurt”.

“All victims of the conflict deserve acknowledgement of their pain and loss and I support them in their efforts to get their pension.”

Since the publication of the tweet, victims campaigners had called on her to apologise. 

“When I read the tweet, I was angry,” Alan McBride, a victims campaigner at the Wave Trauma Centre, said earlier today. “The tweet was insulting, offensive and inaccurate.”

McBride said that he had worked with victims campaigning for compensation for over a decade and that they had all fought a “valiant and dignified” campaign in Northern Ireland and in Westminster. 

After years of a scheme being delayed, he said it was frustrating to hear Anderson’s comments. 

“These were people going about their lawful business and were horrifically maimed for life.”

“None of them were involved in Britain’s ‘dirty war’,” McBride said. 

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it represents “somebody publishing a very political commentary on an issue that is very, very personal to people who have just recently taken a court action and it was wrong”.

“Martina acknowledges that it was wrong to do so,” McDonald said. She said that she spoke to Martina Anderson about the issue. 

McDonald was critical of some aspects of the scheme and said that “this wasn’t simply a Sinn Féin problem.”

“This is a course of concern across the community and it’s something we’ll have to deal with,” she said. 

In response to the tweet, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said she remained “committed to delivering a Victims Payment scheme”.

O’Neill said the scheme should be “needs based and open to all who were seriously physically and psychologically injured during the conflict”.

Last week, a judge ruled that the NI Executive Office had acted unlawfully in delaying the scheme, which was approved by Westminster in January.

The scheme is in limbo due to a dispute between Sinn Féin and the British government over eligibility criteria that are set to exclude anyone convicted of inflicting serious harm during the Troubles from accessing the support payments.

Reacting to Anderson’s comments, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said her words were “unacceptable, disgusting and grossly insulting to hundreds of victims who sustained life changing physical and psychological injuries related to troubles incidents.”

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“Martina Anderson is a senior Sinn Féin MLA. Her party President Mary Lou McDonald and joint First Minister Michelle O’Neill should urgently clarify if they believe victims applying for this pension are ‘mainly those who fought Britain’s dirty war’ or ‘involved in collusion’,” said Eastwood. 

The controversy comes as Commissioner for Victims and Survivors Judith Thompson says victims and survivors of the Troubles must not be left without a voice.

Thompson’s term as Commissioner will end on Monday after five years.

She has urged the Stormont Executive to appoint her successor quickly, to ensure that victims and survivors have a legally constituted voice.

2.55091172 Jennifer McNern forced action by Stormont over implementing the victims’ pension. Source: Liam McBurney/PA

With fresh legislation expected in Westminster Thompson has warned that victims need a voice, or risk being left “very short changed”.

“There is a network of victims and survivors groups with incredible strength  but they are a very wide, diverse range of voices, and you do need one place with no political affiliations to listen to all those voices and try and find a way through it,” she told the PA news agency.

“There is a real risk that the full range of people in Northern Ireland who want to see some kind of resolution to past events are going to be very short changed by what may come from Westminster.

The coming months are going to be a crucial test of how we deliver on the needs of all those who have suffered as a result of the Troubles.

“The fact that time after time the place that politicians have chosen to make a political stand, is when it comes to difficult decisions about delivering for victims and survivors. That is shameful,” said Thompson. 

The outgoing Commissioner added that her legacy has been repeatedly “pushed down the road”.

“In hindsight it would have been great if there was more built into the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement around victims, if there had been more presence of victims’ voices at that table, and if they had been able to resolve that then, or at least move it forward,” she said.

With reporting by Dominic McGrath and Press Association 

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