Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 31 May 2016

Arlene Foster demands reality check over police funding for legacy cases

Published 18/01/2016

Arlene Foster has attended her first question time session since being appointed head of the Northern Ireland Assembly
Arlene Foster has attended her first question time session since being appointed head of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Stormont's new First Minister has called for a reality check around police funding for long-running legacy cases.

Arlene Foster was speaking during her first question time session since being appointed head of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

She told MLAs the issue of funding should be raised with the UK Government.

Mrs Foster said: "I think we really do have to get real.

"If the police are being ordered to do particular issues then they should have the funding that comes with that."

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constables have repeatedly pressed the need for increased resources to probe historic cases.

Last year George Hamilton warned that stringent budget cuts had left the legacy investigations unit severely overstretched but the demands of everyday frontline policing must be prioritised.

Mrs Foster added: " If they (PSNI) are to become involved in a historic case then it is only right, from my perspective, that they should have the funding to deal with that particular case, otherwise they will have to take from other areas of their budget and I don't think there is anyone who would want to see that."

Meanwhile Mrs Foster, who has first-hand experience of the sectarian violence, also revealed there was little prospect of resolving the vexed issue of dealing with the past before the election in May.

The Fresh Start Agreement which was struck following months of negotiations in November failed to find a consensus on dealing with the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

New mechanisms for tackling the past, including a new investigative unit, had been agreed by politicians in late 2014 - in the Stormont House Agreement - but were derailed by a row between Sinn Fein and the UK Government over a potential national security veto.

As a consequence, the deal has been heavily criticised by a number of victims.

Mrs Foster said: " We were very, very close to having a comprehensive agreement on dealing with the past.

"That is why I think it is important to continue to engage with our own Government; with the government of the Republic of Ireland and most importantly with the victims' sector in trying to move this issue forward. B ut in doing so we have to be honest and open about the chances of doing that in a particular time.

"I have been asked the question 'do I think this will be sorted before our next election' and I have to be honest with victims that I think it is not going to happen before the next election because there is an election coming in the Republic of Ireland; we have an election in May and I just don't think that we are going to be able to deal with those issues in the short timescale that we have."

The DUP leader also said she would "resist" any attempts to rewrite history.

Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy, who has worked closely with a number of victims including relatives of those killed during the Kingsmill massacre in 1976, said: "It is essential that the Executive and Assembly deliver real, tangible benefits for victims."

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