Stormont commits to funding Troubles pension scheme

Pledge ends lengthy dispute over whether funding should come from Belfast or London

Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photograph: iStock

Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photograph: iStock

 

Stormont Ministers have committed to pay for a pension scheme for victims of the North’s Troubles, ending a long-running dispute over whether funding should come from Belfast or London.

They said this would provide “reassurance and confidence” to victims and survivors that “payments will be made when they fall due under the terms of the scheme, regardless of where the funding comes from”.

However in a joint statement on Monday, the North’s First, Deputy First, Justice and Finance Ministers said they would continue to seek a contribution from the UK government.

“We will continue to progress financial discussions with the Westminster government in the context of their funding responsibilities for the scheme,” the Ministers said.

More than 500 people who sustained serious physical and psychological injuries are estimated to be eligible for the payments which, depending on the severity of their injuries, will be worth between £2,000 (€2,300) and £10,000 (€11,500) annually. The total cost of the scheme is estimated at about £1.2 billion (€1.3 billion).

The scheme, which was due to open for applications in May 2020, has been mired in controversy and delay, and was the subject of several legal challenges brought by victims.

Compensation

In February, the North’s Court of Appeal ruled that the Executive Office was under a legal duty to fund the scheme, and gave the parties four weeks to find a solution.

At the High Court in Belfast on Monday, the Executive Office gave an undertaking that it would make the necessary funding available to ensure eligible victims and survivors receive compensation.

A letter sent on behalf of the Executive Office stated: “The First Minister, Deputy First Minister, the Justice Minister and Finance Minister, being mindful that the victims and survivors who will be recipients of the payment should not be distressed or concerned, acknowledge that the payment is an entitlement as indicated by the court, and regardless of whether it comes from Westminster or from our block grant, it will be paid when it is due.”

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan agreed that a “satisfactory” undertaking has now been received.

The development concluded a legal action mounted by one of the so-called Hooded Men.

Brian Turley’s challenge had continued since the High Court ruled in August last year that the Executive Office deliberately stymied introduction of the scheme in a bid to force the UK Government into footing the bill.

With no order made to provide grant funding, Mr Turley appealed that outcome in a bid to ensure the necessary financial package is immediately put in place.

He was among 14 men detained, forced to wear hoods and subjected to special interrogation methods by the British military as the conflict in Northern Ireland raged during the early 1970s.

The Commission for Victims and Survivors welcomed the decision, saying it had been “a source of pain and frustration for too long and it is unfortunate that court proceedings were seemingly the only way to finally deliver on some element of recognition”.

“Sadly it has come too late for some and our thoughts are with the families for whom this news will likely be bittersweet,” the commission said. “We hope this is the first step in properly addressing the past and the needs of people impacted by it.”