EU funding for Troubles victims secure until 2018, says DUP minister Alastair Ross
European Union cash for groups helping victims of the Troubles is secure for at least two years, a Stormont minister has insisted.
Junior minister Alastair Ross said agreement on a £17.6m injection under the Peace IV programme was reached more than a month before the Brexit referendum. The DUP minister was responding to fears voiced by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in the aftermath of the vote to leave the EU.
Ahead of any confirmation of when the Government intends triggering Article 50 to begin negotiations on the exit, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance have also warned Brexit could bring a funding crisis facing victims' groups to a head much sooner.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MP Tom Elliott said concern over money which had previously come from the EU could be the latest in a line of broken promises to victims which can't be allowed to continue.
And Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: "There is also a question to answer from the British Government over future funding for victims' services following Brexit and how competing pressures on finances in a post-EU UK are met." However, Mr Ross said a total of £17.6m was being allocated to the victims element of the EU Peace IV programme.
"We have at least two more years for that programme to run, given that Article 50 will not be invoked immediately. We plan to continue to make sure that we get the funding from that Peace IV initiative," he said.
"In the meantime, we will also make sure that we have a more sustainable programme moving forward, so that victims and survivors, individually and in groups, maintain the levels of funding."
His remarks were made before Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson warned the current financial scheme for supporting victims from the Troubles was on the brink of collapse after an increase in demand of almost 30% every year for the last three years.
Wave - one of the major groups dealing with victims' issues - has raised concerns that funding will be frozen following the decision to leave the EU, something that would hit its trauma training programme.
Chief executive Sandra Peake said "there is very real concern" over whether the millions earmarked for the victims' and survivors' sector will arrive.
"For us, it was to be a five-year programme, which was very welcome - but if the UK is to pull out after the next two years the funding may be only for that period," she said.
In the past, money from the EU would have funded up to 50%, and at times 60%, of Wave's budget.
"We have no EU money now but had been in the process of applying for the Peace IV funds. In the past, EU money allocated to us would pay for our development work."
Europe has paid €1.3bn since 1995 to support peace in Northern Ireland and the border counties in the Republic.