23 February 2021

No breakthrough in ministerial meeting on funding victims’ payments

23 February 2021

A meeting with the UK Government and Stormont ministers has failed to resolve an impasse over who will foot a potential £1.2 billion bill for a delayed Troubles victims’ payment scheme.

Several ministers from the powersharing executive spoke with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Tuesday as the clock continues to count down on a court deadline for a resolution.

First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Justice Minster Naomi Long all participated.

Mr Murphy is understood to have outlined the significant impact on the devolved executive if it had to solely shoulder the cost of the scheme for those who suffered physical or psychological injury during the Troubles.

Coronavirus – Thu Feb 11, 2021 (PA Media)

A Stormont source said a breakthrough was not secured and more talks are anticipated in the next two weeks.

Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that Stormont was under a legal duty to fund the payment scheme for injured victims of the conflict.

It made no finding on the source of that funding and gave the Executive and Northern Ireland Office four weeks to find an agreed solution.

The Executive has recently received costing predictions from the Government’s Actuary Department based on numbers provided by the Executive Office.

Those range from £600 million to £1.2 billion, with a central estimate of £848 million.

Stormont ministers have highlighted that the UK Government’s own policy was to fund initiatives it legislated for.

The Andrew Marr Show (PA Wire)

They contend the scheme legislated for by the Government is significantly wider in scope than that envisaged in an agreement by Stormont parties in 2014.

The Government has insisted that the Executive needs to pay for the scheme, arguing that it was only legislated for at Westminster because the powersharing institutions in Belfast were collapsed at the time.

The scheme should have been open for applications at the end of May last year.

It was first delayed when Sinn Fein refused to designate a Stormont department to administer it, after objecting to Government eligibility criteria that excluded former paramilitaries convicted of causing serious harm.

Ms O’Neill eventually agreed to nominate a department last August following a highly critical court judgment that found she had been acting unlawfully.

However, the separate stand-off involving the Government and the wider Stormont Executive over funding remains unresolved.

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