Belfast Telegraph

PM would 'look at' Troubles plan

The Government would seriously consider any proposal from Stormont to fund a new mechanism to investigate the events of the Troubles, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

Theresa Villiers said she could not promise money would be forthcoming, due to constraints on public finances, but she said any suggestion would be "looked at with care" by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne.

There have been growing calls for the Government to contribute to any potential new structures to investigate Northern Ireland's toxic past.

The parties in the power-sharing coalition are currently involved in political talks, convened by Ms Villiers, aimed at finding a new way forward on that issue and a series of other disputes causing logjams in the administration.

Historic probes into Troubles incidents have been hit by significant cuts to public finances in the region, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Police Ombudsman and the Coroner's Service all facing resourcing challenges.

Last week a senior European official insisted the Government had a responsibility to pay for effective investigations of killings involving the security forces.

The Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks suggested failure to do so would be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

Under the terms of Article 2 of the ECHR, the UK authorities have a duty to ensure that the investigations of deaths are independent, effective and prompt.

The Government is facing a number of potential legal challenges from relatives bereaved during the Troubles for allegedly failing to properly investigate historic killings.

Ms Villiers today insisted that the Government did not have a legal responsibility to fund a new mechanism, as investigations would relate to policing and criminal justice matters in Northern Ireland - issues that are devolved to the Assembly.

"These are matters of policing and justice, they are devolved, so the first call for funding any new institutions should be Northern Ireland's block grant, which continues to be higher per head in Northern Ireland than it is anywhere else in the UK, so it continues to recognise the particular circumstances faced in Northern Ireland," she said.

"But, naturally, if there was an agreement, if there was a proposal by Northern Ireland's leaders requesting extra funding, that is something that would be looked at with care by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, I am sure.

"It is a very difficult situation we face, the need to deal with the deficit means that funds are very limited but of course we will consider seriously any proposal that is put to us."

Mr Villiers added: "At this stage I simply can't promise it because the pressing needs to deal with the (UK's) deficit can't be ignored."

The Conservative MP said it was also vital that the Executive implemented efficiency programmes within the public sector in the region to free up more funds for priority issues.

The talks resume in Belfast on Wednesday. Mr Villiers said it was time for the parties to "buckle down" and strive for consensus.

"Building a consensus across five political parties with very different outlooks is going to be difficult but Northern Ireland's leaders have shown in the past they are capable of delivering these kinds of agreements even when it looks very difficult."

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