First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have both called for the British Government to foot the £100m bill for the long-awaited pension for victims of the Troubles.
The UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive are at odds over who will pay for the scheme.
Mrs Foster, speaking during the Covid-19 press briefing on Friday, said: “This pension went through the Westminster Parliament, the regulations were set at Westminster before the Stormont Executive returned in January.
“Therefore we take a very clear view in relation to the funding, we are committed to delivering this pension as part of the New Decade, New Approach.
“But we do have to deal with the funding, it’s quite a lot of money and therefore we need to be able to make sure that we can deliver. There is a legitimate expectation, we both expect that it has to be delivered and therefore we need to get on and deliver it and I am very much committed to that.”
Ms O’Neill added: “This is about restoring dignity, this is about supporting those people that have been both physically and psychologically injured as a result of the conflict.
“So, there are key issues that need to be resolved and they need to be resolved as quickly as possible to allow this payment to happen.”
UUP MLA Doug Beattie — who found out about the delay in an Assembly question — said arguments over money missed key issues, with questions needed over why structures were not in place a week before the scheme was to go live.
He said the scheme would be UK-wide and “to say this must be paid for solely from the Northern Ireland budget just doesn’t add up”.
He also said both the Executive and Northern Ireland Office had “failed victims” by not informing them the scheme would not be in place by May 29 as had been originally envisaged.
“Indeed, had the question not been asked at the Executive committee, when would victims have found out this scheme has descended into farce?” he said.
“This is UK Government legislation. The Government should not have brought this payment into law if they had not worked through all the issues that are needed to support the scheme.”
He added: “The basic facts are that the scaffolding that supports the Victims’ Payment Scheme is not in place. There has been no administrative department nominated to run the scheme, no scheme board appointed and that is a clear failing of the Executive Office.
“Some of the questions now have to be around when this legislation will be enacted. Is there unity within the Executive on this issue or have Sinn Fein, who hold the purse strings, made it clear they will contribute nothing to the scheme because they did not get their way in respect of perpetrators not getting a payment?
“While I believe the UK Government should pay a large proportion of the budget towards the Victims’ Payment Scheme, I also believe that Northern Ireland must also pay its way.
“But if this scheme is being stalled due to politicking within the Executive Office then let’s get that out in the open.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he shared the “huge frustration” over the delay, saying he was “hopeful” the matter could be resolved soon. “This was agreed as part of the budget the executive have,” he said.
More than 40,000 people were injured during the Troubles and those that suffered physically or psychologically “through no fault of their own” were to receive pensions of between £2,000 and £10,000 annually. Legal action could begin against the Executive over the delay depending on its response to a victims’ group.
Alan McBride, coordinator of the Wave trauma centre, who lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond Frizzell in the IRA’s 1993 bombing of the family’s fish shop, is behind the legal action. Wave indicated that, depending on the Executive Office’s response to a pre-action protocol letter asking for an explanation, a decision will be made whether or not to apply for a judicial review of the Executive’s conduct.