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Stormont leaders deny Troubles pension row delayed funding for free school meals

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First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

The First and Deputy First Ministers have denied a row over a Troubles pension held up funding for free school meals.

Stormont ministers were supposed to sign off on plans for free school meals this week as part of the June monitoring round.

Instead, it was reported that the DUP and Sinn Fein stalled the process after failing to agree on funding to administer the Troubles compensation scheme.

Yesterday Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill said there was never any question free school meals would be paid for.

Mrs Foster said: "We're not saying there's not a difference of opinion in relation to the victims' pension payment, there clearly is.

"We have resolved some issues in relation to the monitoring round and will now continue to work on all the other outstanding issues."

Mrs O'Neill added: "I want to see a victims' payment scheme in place, we clearly have a difference in opinion between ourselves over what that should look like. We have a June monitoring process... some people will agree with some things, some people won't agree with some things, but this is just the cut and thrust of everyday work which we do in the Executive."

Yesterday the BBC reported that £2.5m in funding to administer the Troubles compensation scheme will be announced on Tuesday.

A Stormont spokesman said: "The Finance Minister will outline the June monitoring round allocations in the Assembly on Tuesday."

Meanwhile, the political wing of the terrorist UDA has said those injured while carrying out attacks during the Troubles cannot claim to be a victim and should not apply for a pension.

The pension scheme was due to open last month, but Stormont and the UK Government have yet to agree on who will foot the £100m-plus bill.

Sinn Fein argues that the eligibility guidelines discriminate against a large number of people who have any type of conviction.

The NIO and the DUP have accused Sinn Fein of blocking the payments by refusing to nominate Stormont's Department of Justice to oversee the scheme.

The UPRG outlined its position in a statement. It reiterated its "abject and true remorse" to "completely innocent victims" for their suffering.

It said the purpose of the scheme was to acknowledge those harmed or injured during the Troubles and to promote reconciliation.

And it highlighted that the guidelines did not preclude anyone from applying to the scheme.

It said: "The current furore around the scheme is one created by Sinn Fein who would seek to conflate and confuse people around the notion of what constitutes a victim.

"We are very clear about this. Anyone who planted a bomb, shot and attacked security services or members of the public, and who in that process of committing those acts were injured, cannot claim to be a victim."

The statement added that any further delay was an "outrageous and deeply offensive" attempt by Sinn Fein to rewrite history.

On Monday a campaigner for the pension died before the measure was introduced. Paddy Cassidy was in his late 70s and suffered life-long pain after being shot in the spine by the UVF close to his home in Belfast in September 1971.

Belfast Telegraph