Troubles victims face further delay in applying to compensation scheme

Timetable contingent on funding being secured, says NI justice minister Naomi Long

Naomi Long told the Assembly a number of operational steps needed to be advanced to progress the scheme. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Naomi Long told the Assembly a number of operational steps needed to be advanced to progress the scheme. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

Injured victims of the Troubles potentially face another six-month wait before they can apply for a compensation scheme, the North’s justice minister has said.

It will be longer still before the first payments are made, Naomi Long acknowledged.

Mrs Long warned that timetable was contingent on funding being secured and an impasse between the executive and Government on who should pay for the scheme being resolved.

The scheme should have been open for applications at the end of May.

It was delayed by a political row, with Sinn Féin refusing to designate a Stormont department to administer it after objecting to Government eligibility criteria that are set to exclude former paramilitaries convicted of causing serious harm.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill eventually agreed to nominate a department last month following a highly critical court judgment that found that she had been acted unlawfully.

Mrs Long is now overseeing the scheme as justice minister.

She told the Assembly a number of operational steps needed to be advanced to progress the scheme.

“Subject to funding for the scheme being made available, it is anticipated the scheme could open for applications by early March 2021,” said Mrs Long, who expressed hope that an earlier date might be achievable.

Mrs Long said applications would then need to be processed and assessed by a victims payments board.

“At this stage, it isn’t possible to indicate when payments to victims may commence as that will be a matter for the victims payment board when it is established,” she added.

“However, every effort will be made to ensure the scheme can open for applications at the earliest opportunity and the payments are advanced as quickly as possible.”

The minister said it was important the row over funding was sorted. Mrs Long has previously estimated it could cost £800 million.

“The important issue of longer-term funding for the scheme remains outstanding,” she said.

“I’m strongly of the view that the UK government has an obligation to make the necessary funding available.

“I know the delays have been deeply disappointing for many victims and survivors who need this important financial support.

“I share that disappointment and will do all that as possible to get that scheme delivered as quickly as possible.” – PA