Troubles injury payment scheme to open for applications in ‘key milestone’

Confirmation of an opening date for a long-delayed scheme for those injured in the Troubles has been hailed as a good day for victims and survivors.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 7:46 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 7:47 pm

Confirmation of an opening date for a long-delayed scheme for those injured in the Troubles has been hailed as a good day for victims and survivors.

Justice Minister Naomi Long welcomed the announcement that the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme will accept applications from June 30.

However, during Assembly question time, Mrs Long said she could not give a definite date on when the first payments would start to flow.

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Naomi Long speaking in the Assembly

President of the Victims’ Payments Board, high court judge Mr Justice McAlinden, announced the opening date on Tuesday.

His statement provided certainty to victims after years of doubt about the future of the scheme.

While applications will soon start to be submitted, the Stormont Executive continues to press the UK Government to part-fund a scheme that could end up costing £1.2 billion over its lifetime.

A legal stand-off between the Executive and Government over the funding ended recently when ministers in Belfast gave a formal undertaking to the Court of Appeal 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 cash will go on. 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.

Stormont ministers have rejected this proposal, insisting it does not amount to an additional funding commitment.

Mrs Long fielded questions on the scheme at the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

“I very much welcome the announcement by the president this morning of his intention that the scheme will open for applications on the 30th of June,” she said. “I believe that this is good news for victims and survivors of the Troubles, who’ve waited a very long time for this important scheme to be introduced.”

UUP member Doug Beattie asked when the first payments might be expected.

Mrs Long replied: “I will not say that that is like trying to estimate how long a piece of string is, but a number of issues will feed into when we are likely to be in a position to make payments. I agree with the Member that it is a positive development that the president has now indicated his intention that the scheme will open for applications on 30 June.

“That is a key milestone for many of the people who have been waiting for this. It is a complex scheme, and a number of operational issues are being processed in advance of it opening for applications, including the design of the medical assessment service by Capita.

“Ultimately, it will be a matter for the Victims’ Payments Board to confirm when payments may be made from the scheme, but it will depend, obviously, on the number of applications and their complexity. I am aware, however, that the president and members of the Victims’ Payments Board are committed to ensuring that applications will be processed as expeditiously as possible, and I think that all of those applying for the scheme will very much welcome that commitment.”

Earlier, Mr Justice McAlinden said: “The many victims deserve the recognition and payments to which they are entitled. The recent Court of Appeal decisions made it clear that the Executive Office was under a legal duty to make these payments and I am encouraged of the work carried out to ensure the full implementation of the scheme which the legislation envisages.”

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.

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill eventually agreed to nominate a department last August following a highly critical court judgment that found she had been acting unlawfully.

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