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Delay in paying Troubles victims compensation 'outrageous', court told

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Brian Turley, one of the ‘hooded men’

Brian Turley, one of the ‘hooded men’

Brian Turley, one of the ‘hooded men’

An ongoing failure to pay compensation to victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland is "outrageous", the Court of Appeal was told on Tuesday.

Counsel for one of the so-called Hooded Men claimed the pensions scheme could be wrongly frustrated by up to a year.

Earlier this year the High Court ruled that the Executive Office has unlawfully delayed introduction of the £100m programme.

But at that stage the judge refused to make an order for grant funding to be provided.

Brian Turley is now challenging the outcome in a bid to ensure the necessary financial package is put in place immediately.

His barrister, Barry Macdonald QC, contended that victims have been legally entitled to payments since May.

"They are not getting them and they are being told 'You're not getting them until next May at the earliest, if you're lucky'," Mr Macdonald said.

"I don't get outraged as much as I used to be able to, but that really is outrageous."

Mr Turley was among 14 men detained, forced to wear hoods and subjected to special interrogation methods by the British military as the conflict in Northern Ireland raged during the early 1970s.

Along with Jennifier McNern, who lost both legs in an IRA bomb attack in Belfast in 1972, he challenged delays in implementing a pension scheme for Troubles' victims.

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Belfast bomb victim Jennifer McNern won a court case that found Michelle O’Neill’s failure to progress the scheme had been unlawful (Liam McBurney/PA)

Belfast bomb victim Jennifer McNern won a court case that found Michelle O’Neill’s failure to progress the scheme had been unlawful (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Belfast bomb victim Jennifer McNern won a court case that found Michelle O’Neill’s failure to progress the scheme had been unlawful (Liam McBurney/PA)

Payments were approved by Westminster in January, but a dispute with Stormont developed over who should foot the bill.

In August a High Court judge held that the Executive Office was deliberately stymieing introduction of the scheme in a bid to force the UK Government into providing funding.

Mr Justice McAlinden described claims that it was permissible to delay allocation of the compensation programme for political reasons as "arrant nonsense".

Following his scathing verdict Stormont's Department of Justice was designated to administer the scheme.

However, Mr Turley's legal team claim the judge was wrong to consider the Executive Office has any discretion on funding.

They are seeking an order compelling Stormont's most senior department to grant an appropriate amount.

The Court of Appeal heard the aim is to have the scheme open by March, with award assessments expected in the next financial year.

It was put to Mr Macdonald that the money has to come out of Northern Ireland's block grant from Westminster.

But the barrister maintained: "This is all ambivalent and ambiguous, and there's wriggle room to prevent any payments whatsoever being made to victims, despite the entitlement to those payments from last May."

Michael Humphreys QC, for the Executive Office, claimed there was a fundamental misconception about how the government allocates public funding for each financial year.

"The idea that there's some general purposes slush fund available to any department, whether the Executive Office or another, to make payments in respect of a scheme of this nature, is simply nonsense. It can't be done," he said.

"Departments do not carry sums of money that they can use at their whim or discretion to fill in other funding gaps they might identify."

The barrister also rejected assertions that no funding has been provided, setting out how £2.5m was secured for set-up costs, including staff, IT and accommodation.

He accepted that the operation of the scheme required payment of pension money to victims, but that it may take months for some applicants to go through the necessary steps.

Pressed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, he confirmed the Executive Office will seek funds from the Department of Finance during the appropriate budgetary periods.

But Mr Humphreys added: "If it goes and asks and is rebuffed then the legislative scheme is not being frustrated by it."

Reserving judgment in the appeal, Sir Declan said: "We want to consider the arguments."

Belfast Telegraph


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