Santa has arrived early for thousands of civil servants across Northern Ireland who are owed up to six years in back pay — but they don’t yet know when the cash will be “in the bag”.
The Treasury in London has agreed to fund the shortfall arising from unequal pay rates paid out for years by providing access for the Stormont Executive to about £100m.
Just over 13,000 civil servants are believed to be entitled to the pay-backs which, in many cases, will amount to thousands of pounds.
The Belfast Telegraph understands they include around 7,000 administrative assistants who could get up to £5,000 for each year and other administrative officers are in line to receive about £3,000 for each year.
But it still could be “many months” before the money is finally paid out, according to an Executive source.
The breakthrough came after two meetings between Finance Minister Nigel Dodds and the chief secretary to the Treasury Yvette Cooper in London in recent months.
The Stormont Executive argued the cash should come from central government because the issue, affecting mainly Catholic and female civil servants, arose when Direct Rule ministers were at the helm.
Former Secretary of State Peter Hain is also said to have conceded in principle that London should stump up the monies, but Executive Ministers feared being left to find the cash from their own depleted coffers.
Now Mr Dodds has stressed both he and the Finance and Personnel department hope soon to settle the matter, which his predecessor, now First Minister Peter Robinson first revealed earlier this year.
The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), which represents most of the civil servants involved, insisted the starting date from which the back pay should be calculated must be Mr Robinson’s disclosure on May 15.
Yet while some claims date back as far as 1999, legislation only allows a ceiling for back pay claims of six years. NIPSA representatives met with Finance Department officials last week and were told the discussions with the Treasury have closed.
Later Mr Dodds said that “intensive engagement” involving Mrs Cooper and Prime Minister Gordon Brown meant the Executive would not be facing pressures it might otherwise have had to cope with.
He said: “One matter that must be addressed is civil servants’ equal pay.
“However, as a result of the work we have undertaken we are now in a much better position to do that.
“It is my and my department’s desire to settle that matter as quickly as possible — we must get money into people’s hands and pockets.”
The DUP deputy leader told the Assembly his officials intend to engage with individuals and unions in the coming days to ensure the money is paid out.