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Allister Highlights Appalling Ministerial and DUP Failures on Reserve

14 September 2011

Text of a speech by North Antrim MLA Jim Allister on the Part-Time Reserve Gratuity Scheme delivered in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday.

There are few sections of our society to whom we owe more than the police reservists, many of whom paid with their life for daring to defend law and order. I think today of the first member of the security forces killed in Ballymena, Mr Lamont, a reservist. I think of other gallant men, such as Eric Lutton, butchered by wicked, evil terrorists. I then think of the survivors who gave so many years service and who get treated in the manner that they have been, in the nature, the extent and the administration of this gratuity.

For me, there are three issues: the appalling taxation issue; the appalling administration, which missed a third of potential applicants; and the appalling security breach. I will deal with them in that order. This was a negotiation that the DUP likes to claim much credit for. If it claims credit for it, it must equally accept that it botched it. The offer of £20 million was made in a letter to Peter Robinson in October 2009 in the run-up to the Hillsborough negotiations, where, it tells us, it had all sorts of leverage. It took its eyes right off the ball, and, instead of checking, double-checking and making absolutely sure that, like the previous gratuity for the UDR, this was going to be tax-free, it never bothered. If it did bother, it accepted that the gratuity would be taxed, such was its urgency to do the nefarious deal that it did with the former IRA party, Sinn Féin.

So, that was a negotiation botched. If the political leverage that was there had been applied, we would not be talking about the taxation. That should be an embarrassment to every politician. Effectively, any Member of this House, the House of Commons or the European Parliament who quits their office or is not returned gets a gratuity, of which the first £30,000 is tax-free. Yet here we have men who sacrificed beyond description. One of them spoke to me last week. He had served for over 30 years, but he got a cheque for less than £5,000, which is £3 a week.

Then we find that an inflexible, rigid, uncaring, unfeeling arrangement for the application meant that only two thirds of those who were eligible ever got the money. Although I commend the Member for moving the motion, I regret that he did not include this portion. It speaks for itself. If only 66% of those eligible applied, there was something drastically wrong with the advertising process that drew it to the public’s attention. No one has to elaborate on that point, yet there has been a rigid refusal to deal with it. On that, I condemn the Minister for his inflexibility. He was more than happy to see deadlines pass, time after time, when it came to decommissioning, but he sticks rigidly to a deadline that shuts out those who sacrificed in the police Reserve.

I condemn the Minister for that, and I condemn him and his Department for the incredibly shambolic arrangements that gave rise to the security risk that has been posed to so many. The Minister tells us that his departmental officials told him that they could not write out to everyone who they thought might have been in the Reserve, even though they held their addresses, because there was a security risk. However, they can send out cheques and letters that compound that security risk. The manner in which this thing has been treated is quite appalling, and the Department has much to answer for.

In passing the motion, we do not just pass it: we look for action from the Department, and I look for those who have been closed out to be given their share of the money yet.

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NI politics