Stormont ministers have vowed to continue pushing the Government for more money to fund a scheme for Troubles victims after the resolution of a legal stand-off over who should foot the bill.
While the Executive has given a formal undertaking to the Court of Appeal that the scheme will be funded come what may, ministers have insisted efforts to get the Treasury to stump up more cash will go on.
The scheme for those physically or psychologically injured during the conflict is estimated to cost up to £1.2 billion over its lifetime. The first year bill will come in at around £30 million.
The Court of Appeal in Belfast has accepted an undertaking from the Executive that it will provide the necessary funding for the scheme.
Earlier this year, in a case taken by a victim, the Appeal Court judges ruled that Stormont was under a legal duty to fund the payment scheme.
However, they 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.
While Stormont ministers have now formally assured Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and fellow Appeal court judges that the scheme will be funded come what may, they have made clear that they will continue to push the Government to provide some of the money required.
In a joint statement, First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Justice Minister Naomi Long and Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “The court has today accepted our undertaking that payments will be made to successful applicants under the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme.
“We remain committed to delivering the scheme and are mindful of the needs of victims and survivors who will be recipients of the payment.
“This undertaking provides reassurance and confidence that payments will be made when they fall due under the terms of the scheme, regardless of where the funding comes from.
“We will continue to progress financial discussions with the Westminster Government in the context of their funding responsibilities for the scheme.”
The Government has suggested that £100 million of Treasury funding earmarked for issues related to Northern Ireland’s “unique circumstances” in the deal to restore Stormont could be used to part-fund the scheme.
Mr Murphy has rejected this proposal, insisting it does not amount to an additional funding commitment.
The scheme, which should have been open for applications at the end of May last year, has been mired in controversy and delay.
It was initially held up last year when Sinn Fein refused to designate a Stormont department to administer it, after objecting to Government eligibility criteria that excluded former paramilitaries convicted of causing serious harm.
Ms O’Neill eventually agreed to nominate a department last August following a highly critical court judgment that found she had been acting unlawfully.
The Commission for Victims and Survivors welcomed the financial underpinning of the scheme.
“This has been a source of pain and frustration for too long and it is unfortunate that court proceedings were seemingly the only way to finally deliver on some element of recognition,” the Commission said in a statement.
“Sadly it has come too late for some and our thoughts are with the families for whom this news will likely be bittersweet.
“We hope this is the first step in properly addressing the past and the needs of people impacted by it.
“Now more than ever, it is imperative that everyone, from every corner of society, show renewed compassion, vigour and determination to this work. A sustainable peace is dependent on it.”