Justice Minister Naomi Long has defended awarding a contract to administer the Troubles pension scheme to the company Capita.
The Alliance Party leader said the administration of the scheme is protected by “robust checks and balances” and rejected claims that it would be run similar to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme.
Speaking on BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Ms Long said she had “confidence” in the system put in place to protect victims and said it was not fair to compare Capita’s role in the PIP scheme to that of the Troubles pension.
The east Belfast MLA faced questions in the Assembly last week over Capita’s involvement in carrying out medical assessments for awards made under the new Troubles-related-incident Victims’ Payment Scheme
“The administration of the scheme itself is overseen by the Victims’ Payments Board and I have confidence in Justice McAlinden to do that in a diligent way. I believe that the scheme as it is designed will work to benefit victims,” she said.
“I have confidence in the system we have put in place, that will allow victims to be treated with dignity and will allow the medical assessments to be done in a dignified and proportionate way.”
A recent report by the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman found too many people had their applications for PIP in Northern Ireland unfairly rejected. Capita carries out assessments for the payments.
The ombudsman said the repeated nature of the failures with PIP payments constituted “systemic maladministration”.
Capita will also have a role in carrying out medical assessments for awards made under the new Troubles-related-incident Victims’ Payment Scheme.
Naomi Long added: “It is not the PIP scheme, nor would I defend Capita’s handling of the PIP scheme.
“My position is that the scheme has been co-designed between Capita and victims' organisations. We have put in place a number of checks and balances, very robust checks and balances, to ensure there will be no repeat of the PIP scheme.
“The question for those who say Capita should not be involved, are they willing to go to victims' organisations with whom we co designed the scheme, who knew that Capita were the provider from early this year in January, and who worked with us to deliver this scheme... and say to them the scheme will be delayed indefinitely?”
Meanwhile, Naomi Long renewed her call for Stormont’s traditional designation system to be scrapped, as she said it “discriminated” against the Alliance Party.
A recent Belfast Telegraph LucidTalk poll in May put the party in second place if an Assembly election were called. Ms Long was asked if she planned to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement if the party emerge from the next election as one of the largest.
“Irrespective of what happens I will continue to press for the designation system to be removed, for us to do away with cross community votes in the Assembly and for our votes to be treated equally to every other member of that Assembly,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show.
“When the Good Friday Agreement was formed, those of us who designated as other than unionist or nationalist were treated as though we didn’t exist.
“We now make up 20% of the Assembly now it is not sustainable for that 20% of the Assembly to be ignored and that needs to change if we are to have real democracy.”