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Ministers agree deal on home of threatened policeman

Stormont ministers have agreed to provide funds to buy the homes of policemen and civilians threatened by dissident republicans.

A number of families forced to flee their homes at short notice after being told their lives were at risk had been in limbo after a rehousing fund ran dry.

At an Executive meeting in Belfast yesterday, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and Housing Minister Margaret Ritchie struck a deal which will see the abandoned homes sold off from today.

The money will be given to the families to enable them to relocate.

Individuals subject to death threats in Northern Ireland can have their homes bought up by the Government under the terms of the Sped scheme (Special Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings).

However, the fund was exhausted earlier this year after Ms Ritchie's department experienced difficulties selling on the properties in a deflated housing market.

The issue was thrust into the public eye this week when it emerged that a 37-year-old policeman who fled his home after a threat from the Real IRA suffered a stroke due to stress.

After four days of political wrangling over whose responsibility it was to plug the cash shortfall, Mr Wilson and Ms Ritchie reached an agreement.

“We regarded this as an important issue that had to be resolved,” Mr Wilson said outside Stormont Castle after the two-hour meeting.

“It's an example, if we could get it resolved, how the Executive could work. We agreed a way forward that will enable Margaret from tomorrow to purchase the properties and deal with what is a very great issue of human interest to the people involved.”

While the ministers were vague on details, it is understood Ms Ritchie will provide the money from her budget with a commitment from the Finance Department to cover funding gaps due to unsold homes at a later date.

Ms Ritchie said: “This will allow me to help the people who are in deep suffering and deep misery as a result of the level of intimidation and I hope this paves a good way forward for those people right throughout Northern Ireland — ordinary people and members of security forces — who have been so deeply affected over the last number of months and I am just glad it's now been resolved.”

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