Stormont Executive urged to act over recognition payments for the bereaved

Stormont’s Executive Office has been urged to act over a closed fund for recognition payments for the bereaved.

Kenny Donaldson of the victims group Seff has questioned the delay in reopening the scheme which closed to new applications in March 2017.

It included an annual payment made to a spouse or partner of someone who was killed, in recognition of their loss, as well as payments for parents of victims.

Mr Donaldson said he understands that both First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill are supportive, and questioned the “paralysis”.

First Minister Arlene Foster (left) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill
First Minister Arlene Foster (left) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

“This matter needs to be prioritised, those who did not submit an application by the arbitrary deadline must be able to have an opportunity to apply now and finally receive acknowledgement for the loss they suffered in having a loved one murdered or killed as a result of the terrorist campaign,” he said.

Tina Smith, whose husband Corporal Stephen Smith, 30, was killed in an IRA blast in then West Germany in 1989, is among those backing the call.

Three other women – the widow of a soldier killed in the Hyde Park bomb, the widow of a murdered Garda sergeant and a Co Tyrone woman who lost three members of her family to terrorism – have also spoken out in recent weeks.

Corporal Smith of the First Royal Tank Regiment, was killed on July 2, 1989 after a booby-trap bomb had been attached to his car parked outside his apartment in Hanover.

It was then part of a wider campaign by the Provisional IRA targeting UK military personnel in Europe.

That saw 15 killed, including Sir Richard Sykes, British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Belgian banker Andre Michaux, and soldiers Mark Coe, Richard Michael Heakin, Major Michael Dillon-Lee and Maheshkumar Islania of the RAF along with his six-month-old daughter Niurati.

Mrs Smith and the couple’s four young children (Louise, Leanna, Jade and Lee aged between 18 months and 11 years) were also badly injured in the attack.

They had been planning a day out at a local festival.

Speaking to the PA news agency from her home in the south of England, Mrs Smith recalled waking up in a hospital in the UK.

She was refused a house by several local authorities due to fears over what she had been through.

Their possessions, after 13 years living in West Germany, were sent over later, but she said she lost her support network of friends in the army.

“When you are in the armed forces, you’re in a unit and you are a family so everyone knows everyone, kids all grow up together,” she said.

“But after what happened, I felt abandoned, it was horrible.

“There were promises, ‘we’ll always be there for you’, but obviously that never happened.

“Looking back, it was a struggle. I hadn’t done anything wrong but I wasn’t able to get a house (from the local authorities), it ended up feeling like I was begging.

“No one asked did I need to talk to someone. There was nobody that I could say how I was feeling to, no one there to guide me. I felt dumped in the gutter.

“It’s not pity you are looking for, it’s someone to ask, should I be doing this, because you’re not prepared for living on your own, bringing up the children. It wasn’t what I expected my life to be like. You have to live with that for the rest of your life, there is no bringing them back.

“So then I clamped up and went with it. Inside I was screaming, wanting someone to listen to me but I didn’t know to express that. I’m still not being heard now.

“I went to the doctor, because I still have flashbacks, he said you have got PTSD and sent me for counselling, but they said they weren’t qualified to help me. I just wanted someone to help put my mind back together.”

Mrs Smith backed the call for applications for the bereaved scheme to be reopened as recognition for what her family has been through.

The Executive Office responded with a statement.

“Ministers are committed to meeting the needs of bereaved victims and survivors,” they said.

“Work on the development of options for Ministerial consideration is at an advanced stage.

“This has benefited from important contributions from families and advocacy groups along with the Commission for Victims and Survivors and the Victims and Survivors Service.”