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Dealing with past: Stormont to pick up bill, hints Theresa Villiers

By Noel McAdam

The Government wants the Stormont Executive to foot the £50 million a year bill for dealing with the past, a minister has claimed.

The Northern Ireland Office circulated a paper to the main parties that the costly legacy issues are stretching the capacity of the PSNI and Police Ombudsman's Office.

Jutice Minister David Ford revealed that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers had said Stormont should now pick up the bill for dealing with the past.

The costs include legal bills, inquests and many investigations.

"When challenged on those points, the Secretary of State has acknowledged that there are responsibilities on the British Government - though she clearly expects the Executive to pick up most of the tab," he told the BBC.

"I frankly find that unacceptable. It seems to me that the major player in such respects - as was said by the European Commissioner last week - is the UK Government."

Last week the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muizneiks said the Government would be in breach of the Human Rights Convention by failing to conduct effective investigations into State killings.

Mr Ford said the Irish Government had admitted it also should bear some of the cost.

However, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said London had an obligation to pay for dealing with the past.

He said the NIO and British Government "are not neutral arbiters but were active participants in the conflict. What we need to see is the British Government actually taking a proactive and positive approach".

Meanwhile, the two main leaders of unionism were absent from the multi-party talks at Stormont dealing with divisive issues yesterday. First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist chief Mike Nesbitt were in Brussels on a joint visit to brief EU bosses.

Their trip came as the European Parliament debated a motion voicing concern over the ongoing political impasse. Mr Robinson said there would always be sceptics at the start of negotiations - but he wanted to prove them wrong.

"In the early parts of any talks process, people keep their cards close to their chest - it's really at the latter end of it that you test the other people," he said.

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said she hoped the remarks "will signal a change in the attitude of the leadership of political unionism towards the political process".

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