Row over funding of Troubles probes continues with NIO refusal

First Minister Arlene Foster (left) pictured with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers. ''Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
First Minister Arlene Foster (left) pictured with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers. ''Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

No further money is available to fund police investigations into Troubles-related crimes, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has said.

In response to a call from Arlene Foster for additional financial support for legacy investigations, a NIO spokeswoman said the matter was the responsibility of the Northern Ireland justice department and the PSNI.

The first minister had asked for the additional cash to progress a large number of historic cases - including the one centred on the activities of the Army agent known as Stakeknife.

The complex Stakeknife case would cost an estimated £35 million to investigate.

In 2003, west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci denied being an undercover Army agent after being named in the media.

He appeared at a Sinn Fein-organised press conference to reject the allegations but has since disappeared from public view.

The current inquiry into Stakeknife is expected to be the largest focused on a single individual ever held in Northern Ireland - re-examining around 50 murders.

The NIO spokeswoman said: “This is another reason why we need to build the necessary political consensus to deal with all aspects of Northern Ireland’s past - and we believe we are closer to this than ever before. The Government has made it clear that there is an additional £150m available over five years to support new bodies to be set up to investigate the past.”

On Thursday night, chief constable George Hamilton told the BBC’s The View programme it would cost in the region of £7 million a year once fully operational.

Mr Hamilton said it will take time to “put some infrastructure in place” and to “populate the investigative teams so that they can be deployed”.

Speaking yesterday, Mrs Foster said she has asked secretary of state Theresa Villiers to release sufficient funds to the chief constable to enable the historic investigations to continue.

Mrs Foster said she has “a lot of sympathy for the chief constable in relation to legacy issues,” and added: “He is trying to fund these investigations which he has been directed to become involved in by other agencies.

“I have already told the Secretary of State that she should look at releasing some of the funds, which were set aside during the negotiations, to allow [George Hamilton] to continue to fund the other very important work that he continues to do.”

Also speaking yesterday, justice minister David Ford reiterated that his department’s budget is already under strain and that Westminster should step in with appropriate funding.

Mr Ford said: “The issues of the past were clearly stated to be the responsibility of the UK government, with Treasury funding to be provided, and that is an obligation the secretary of state needs to live up to.”

On Thursday, the justice minister said he was “absolutely confident” his department could not afford the probe.

• The Government has an obligation to “stump up the money” for Troubles-related investigations, Ross Hussey has said.

Responding to yesterday’s statement from the NIO, the Ulster Unionist policing board member said the board was powerless to take on the burden.

“The chief constable has a budget that he has to operate within, and clearly if we were to say ‘right, you are to spend all your money legacy issues,’ there wouldn’t be police on the streets, simple as that.

“The cold reality is, either the secretary of state says ‘yes,’ or this [latest round of investigations] dies a death.”

Mr Hussey described that outcome as “the worst possible situation”.

He added: “The buck has to stop with the secretary of state and the Northern Ireland Office.

“I think this is going to bring us along to another [political] crisis in the not too distant future and we just can’t keep going from crisis to crisis.

“And this will be another major crisis, because the Stakeknife thing is one that is going to be there in our face, as will others, so there has be a clear cut decision by the British Government to get this resolved once and for all.”