Stormont’s finance minister has expressed regret after a meeting with the Government to discuss a funding impasse over victims’ payments did not proceed on Tuesday.
The powersharing executive and Northern Ireland Office are at loggerheads on who should foot the bill for the scheme to compensate those physically or psychologically injured during the Troubles.
Conor Murphy told the Assembly on Monday that he along with the First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Justice Minister Naomi Long had been due to meet Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Tuesday evening to discuss the stand-off.
However, after the encounter failed to materialise, the Government insisted no meeting had been confirmed.
On Monday, Mr Murphy told MLAs the meeting had already been postponed from last Thursday to enable Mr Lewis to consult with the Treasury
The Finance Minister said he hoped the Treasury discussions meant the Government was “beginning to accept their responsibility for a scheme that they devised and legislated for”.
“There are some indications that the Secretary of State and the NIO are beginning to engage, and I hope that they will have something to offer us tomorrow evening,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr Murphy said the meeting did not happen.
“It’s regrettable the Secretary of State isn’t available today to discuss this matter,” he said.
“Victims deserve a resolution that provides certainty on funding as soon as possible.”
A Government spokesman denied a meeting had been confirmed for Tuesday.
“No such meeting was confirmed for today,” he said.
“The Secretary of State has made clear the high priority which he places on having the Victims Payments scheme open and receiving applications as soon as possible, and is committed to continuing to engage with Executive Ministers towards this end.”
The Troubles Permanent Disablement Scheme will allow payments for those most seriously injured during the decades-long conflict.
It has been delayed over a number of disagreements, including whether Belfast or London should meet the cost, which could reach £1.2 billion.
Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that Stormont was under a legal duty to fund the payment scheme.
It made no finding on the source of that funding – i.e. from the current block grant or by way of extra Treasury funding for the region – and urged the Executive and Northern Ireland Office to agree a solution.