Belfast Telegraph

Villiers may free part of legacy cash for inquests and police

By Richard Wheeler

Theresa Villiers has indicated she is willing to release some of the £150m earmarked for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

The Northern Ireland Secretary came under pressure in the Commons yesterday to ensure the PSNI and coroners office gets extra funding to help deal with responsibilities linked to the conflict.

Ms Villiers told MPs she will take "very seriously" a request to provide cash for inquests if a "credible" reform package is put together.

An agreement on how to deal with the past has not been reached despite progress in other areas of policy.

Ms Villiers made the remarks during the second reading of the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill.

The proposed legislation seeks to implement parts of two political deals aimed at protecting Stormont's faltering power-sharing administration.

This includes an Independent Reporting Commission on paramilitary activity, changes to ensure Assembly Members challenge paramilitary activity, and to ensure the amount of UK Government cash required for the Northern Ireland budget is outlined to MLAs.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker said victims must be at the heart of any agreements. He called for an "urgent look" at the resources available to the PSNI and the coroners service to support investigations and speed up inquests, noting: "More and more delay for victims is unacceptable."

Ms Villiers replied: "The Fresh Start Agreement does make it clear that the £150m package to support legacy is linked to the establishment of the new bodies.

"But we're listening carefully to the representations made, particularly in relation to inquests.

"If a credible reform package for inquests is put together then we take very seriously a request to provide some funding to support it."

Mr Coaker welcomed the "helpful" response, adding the implication is Ms Villiers is "open to making money available" both to the PSNI and the coroners service.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it was essential that the Bill is passed before Stormont is dissolved at the end of March ahead of May's elections so "that everything is in place for the new term of the Assembly and the new executive to operate under the new legislation without any hiccup or delay or any question mark over it".

"And in particular the provisions in relation to the agreement for a programme for government, extending the period to appoint ministers... the pledge of office and an undertaking for MLAs, those are all absolutely essential that this House deals with those before the Assembly is dissolved at the end of March."

The Bill also seeks to amend the existing pledge of office taken by ministers so they would have to make a firm commitment to ending paramilitarism.

But Tom Elliott of the UUP said: "If there is a doubt around the pledge or undertaking, if it will make any difference at all, I have to say when some people bombed and murdered in the past I'm not so sure whether taking a pledge of ministerial office or taking an undertaking as Assembly Members would make much difference to them.

"I think if they could do that in the past, I don't think this is going to make a huge amount of difference."

Belfast Telegraph


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