First victims’ pension payments expected this financial year, says Long
The first pension payments for people badly injured during the Troubles are expected to be made in the current financial year, Justice Minister Naomi Long has said.
The long-awaited payments scheme is set to open for applications on June 30, more than a year behind schedule.
But Mrs Long told the Assembly that negotiations over how to cover the cost of the scheme are continuing with the UK Government.
It is estimated that the pension could end up costing £1.2 billion over its lifetime.
A legal stand-off between the Executive and UK Government over the funding ended when ministers in Belfast gave a formal undertaking to the Court of Appeal earlier this year that they will ensure the scheme is paid for, come what may.
Despite that, ministers have insisted efforts to get the Treasury to stump up more money will go on.
During ministerial question time at Stormont, Mrs Long said: “The Minister for Finance (Conor Murphy) is leading on engaging with the UK Government on behalf of the Executive in relation to funding for the Troubles Permanent Disablement Scheme.
“I have raised the issue separately with the secretary of state for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis) on a number of occasions, in meeting and in correspondence.
“The most recent meeting was on April 7. I attended that meeting with the First Minister (Arlene Foster), Deputy First Minister (Michelle O’Neill) and the Finance Minister.
“The meeting was arranged following an offer made by the Secretary of State to provide access to £100m of New Decade, New Approach funding.”
Mrs Long continued: “The Secretary of State indicated that no further funding would be made available for the scheme.
“We expressed strongly to the Secretary of State our collective position that the offer of financial assistance falls considerably short of what was expected and that the UK Government would need to provide additional funding to avoid such a financial strain on the Northern Ireland block grant.”
She added: “Discussions with the Secretary of State and the UK Government will continue. In the meantime an undertaking has been provided to the courts that payments will be made to successful applicants under the scheme.
“That is important reassurance to victims that payments will be made when they fall due under the terms of the scheme, regardless of where the funding comes from.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie asked: “Could I ask the minister for her view, does she believe the payments will start to be made this financial year?”
Mrs Long said: “It is a complex scheme and a number of operational issues are currently being progressed in advance of the scheme opening for applications.
“I would expect that those more complete applications which require less assessment may well come to fruition within the current financial year.”