A man severely injured in the Troubles 40 years ago has been threatened with legal action over his care bill.
Kevin Rafferty was shot and paralysed in a sectarian gun attack in June 1978.
He has received a £30,000 bill from the Belfast Health Trust for arrears over the cost of his care in a Dunmurry nursing home.
The trust said it does not comment on individual cases. However, it is understood to be seeking a resolution.
Mr Rafferty’s case has highlighted the lack of pension provision for those badly injured during the Troubles.
Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson insisted it is now time for Westminster to intervene and introduce legislation to allow for victims’ pensions.
Mr Rafferty, 65, was standing in for a friend serving customers in Belfast’s Smithfield Market when loyalist gunmen walked in and shot him in the head.
“I was shot through my left eye. The bullet was lodged close to my brain. One side of my face is paralysed, (my) tongue included,” he said.
“It affected my speech. For several years I could not even speak.”
He spent 17 months in hospital where doctors managed to save his life but for 40 years he has had to cope with life-changing injuries.
Mr Rafferty is now confined to a wheelchair, still has difficulty talking, and needs round-the-clock care.
His friend Tony McAllister said life is a struggle:
“Nothing is cheap. He even had to buy his own wheelchair. So his money is limited.”
Mr Rafferty survives on benefits and a state pension.
He has received a bill for about £30,000 from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust towards the cost of the care he receives at the Kilwee Care Home in Dunmurry where he has lived for the past five years.
According to Mr Rafferty the debt arose because of a change in his benefits.
“Initially I was paying the bill no problem, but the past year or two my benefits have drastically changed,” he said.
“They are not what I was getting initially with all those cutbacks and all.”
Mr Rafferty said he has never received any money from victims’ groups.
He added that he has never heard of the Victims and Survivors Service, which was set up by the Stormont Executive, and last year spent almost £15m on victim-related issues.
Mr McAllister insists Kevin’s plight highlights the need for a pension for severely injured victims of the Troubles.
“They are the forgotten people and they should receive some financial support,” he said.
What kind of a society are we if we don’t provide for them?
According to the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, the Executive was supposed to find a way to support severely physically injured victims in Northern Ireland through a pension.
While the pension campaign received cross-party support, it was never implemented because agreement could not be reached over the definition of a victim.
Mr McAllister feels let down.
“It is not acceptable at all. Politicians are getting paid for doing nothing at all,” he said.
‘The Troubles happened’
“They don’t even go to Stormont and people like Kevin, who deserve it, and others who are in a similar position get nothing.
“The Troubles happened and Kevin was one of the victims,” he added.
Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said that in the absence of any local agreement or an assembly at Stormont, it was up to Westminster to introduce the necessary legislation to grant the pension.
“We need a law to be passed to make that happen. If we had a devolved administration that would be the right place for it to go.
“If we had a local assembly, they would be dealing with it. We don’t. So it needs to go to Westminster.
“The Secretary of State has the power to take this to Westminster to deal with it and we would want her to do that,” Ms Thompson added.
Ms Thompson said that she had already spoken with Karen Bradley and asked her to implement legislation to resolve the pensions issue.
She said the Secretary of State has asked for further advice, and has not yet firmly committed to dealing with the matter at Westminster.
A spokesperson for the NIO said: “If, despite best efforts, the NI Executive has not been restored by the time updated advice on a pension has been provided by the Victims Commissioner, the government will consider how this matter can be progressed in the absence of NI executive ministers.”
The Wave Trauma Centre has calculated that there are around 500 severely physically injured victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Source BBC News