Delay to compensation scheme for victims of Troubles unlawful, court rules

Judge dismisses as ‘nonsense’ claim by Executive Office that the court should not involve itself

Stormont’s deputy first minister has agreed to progress a compensation scheme for victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles after a judge ruled the ongoing delay was unlawful.

Michelle O’Neill’s move came after she was highly criticised by a High Court judge for refusing comply with a legislative requirement to set up the scheme.

A joint legal challenge over the delay was brought by Jennifer McNern, who lost both legs in a Troubles bombing in 1972, and Brian Turley, one of the “hooded men” who were arrested and interrogated by the British army in 1971.

The payment scheme had been in limbo due to a dispute between Sinn Féin and the government over eligibility criteria, with anyone convicted of inflicting serious harm during the Troubles set to be excluded. Sinn Féin and the DUP have also been at odds with Westminster over who should pay for the scheme.


Applications for the scheme were due to open at the end of May but little progress has been made due to a failure by the Executive Office, shared by Ms O’Neill and First Minister Arlene Foster, to nominate a Stormont department to take responsibility for it.

Mrs Foster subsequently dropped her opposition and during the court hearing the judge was told she was now willing to designate a department immediately.

That left Ms O’Neill as the sole cause of the delay within the Executive Office for nominating the department. That point was made clear in a scathing judgment delivered in Belfast High Court by Justice McAlinden on Friday.

Noting that Ms O’Neill was the source of the blockage, he said the Executive Office was under a “clear, unqualified and unconditional obligation” to designate a department.

The judge said any argument to the contrary was “obtuse, absurd and irrational”. He dismissed as “nonsense” a contention that the court should not involve itself in what it claimed was a political dispute.

The judge said the Executive Office was deliberately stymieing the introduction of the scheme in an attempt to pressure Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis to change the terms of the scheme.

“This is a truly shocking proposition,” he said. “It demonstrates either wilful disregard for the rule of law or an abject ignorance of what the rule of law means in a democratic society.”

In response, Ms O’Neill said she had “no alternative” than to nominate a department. But she insisted the scheme was devised by the UK government and was “exclusionary, discriminatory and divisive”.

“Its policy intent was and remains to create a hierarchy of victims, and reinforce the British state narrative around the conflict,” she said.

Ms O’Neill accused the UK government of reneging on previous commitments to establish mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles and called for it and the Irish Government to convene a summit to address outstanding issues.

The court had given the Executive Office seven days to respond to the judgment.

Responding to the court victory, Ms McNern said she “should never have had to take this case” and that she and other victims “need our politicians to act on this now and implement the scheme”.

Mr Turley said he was “a survivor of torture” who was left with long-term injuries as a result of the actions of the state. The delay could “only be described as another form of torture”, he said.

Mr Turley has also taken a case against Mr Lewis but the judge found that the secretary of state had fulfilled his obligations by delivering the basis for an “effective” and “workable” scheme. - PA