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Government funding for victims’ compensation scheme a must – Foster

The First Minister said there was a ‘big job of work’ to be completed before the compensation scheme could open for applications.

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First Minister Arlene Foster (Rebecca Black/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Rebecca Black/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Rebecca Black/PA)

Executive ministers must secure funding from the Government to ensure enough money is in place to pay compensation to injured Troubles victims, Arlene Foster has said.

The First Minister also acknowledged there was a “big job of work” to be completed before the scheme would be ready for applications.

Mrs Foster was questioned about progress in implementing the long-delayed scheme during Assembly question time.

It should have been open for applications at the end of May.

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Arlene Foster said the Government had an onus to provide funding as the scheme covered the whole of the UK (Liam McBurney/PA)

Arlene Foster said the Government had an onus to provide funding as the scheme covered the whole of the UK (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Arlene Foster said the Government had an onus to provide funding as the scheme covered the whole of the UK (Liam McBurney/PA)

It was delayed by a political row, with Sinn Fein refusing to designate a Stormont department to administer it after objecting to Government eligibility criteria that are set to exclude former paramilitaries convicted of causing serious harm.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill eventually agreed to nominate a department last month following a highly critical court judgment that found that she had been acting unlawfully.

However, a separate stand-off involving the Government and the wider Stormont Executive over funding remains unresolved.

The Northern Ireland Office has insisted the devolved legislature must pick up the tab, estimated at a potential £800 million over the lifetime of the scheme.

However, Stormont ministers have said it is unfair to ask them to pay for something that covers victims across the UK.

“We need to secure additional funding from Westminster in recognition that this just isn’t a scheme that operates here in Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom,” Mrs Foster told MLAs on Monday.

She added: “If you look at the Treasury’s own guidance in relation to funding, it clearly says that funding follows the person who has made the policy decision and the policy decision was made at Westminster by the then secretary of state (Julian Smith), so it’s important that we continue to work with the Minister of Justice (Naomi Long), Minister of Finance (Conor Murphy), Deputy First Minister (Michelle O’Neill) and myself so that we can get the appropriate funding in place.

“We have to do that. It’s not a ‘we would like to do that’. We have to do that to make sure that the funding is in place.”

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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)

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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)

The DUP leader said it was a matter of “deep regret” that victims had to go to court to secure movement on the scheme.

“I very much hope that it is the case that all ministers are on board for this now,” she said.

“We’ve had a court case which has been quite divisive. I think it’s important that we now move on and get the scheme implemented as quickly as possible.”

The Department of Justice has taken on the job of administering the scheme.

Mrs Foster said preliminary steps included the appointment of a judicial-led assessment panel to examine applications; the development of an IT system; the appointment of an assessment provider; and the development of an assessment process.

“So there’s a big job of work to be done, we’re up for that job of work,” she added.

“But we need to do it in quick time so that we can get funding out to many victims who need to have their victim needs acknowledged – first of all by the payment and then hopefully the payment will ease some of the suffering that they’re currently enduring.”

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