Sinn Fein condemns NI Secretary over victims pension funding suggestion

Addressing the victims pension, the Secretary of State for NI Brandon Lewis said the Executive is well funded to deliver its statutory responsibilities.

Sinn Féin has criticised a suggestion by Secretary of State that the victims pension should be paid for with funds set aside for the New Decade New Approach deal.

Belfast and London have been at loggerheads over who should meet the cost of the Troubles Permanent Disablement Scheme, which has been estimated could reach £1.2 billion.

In a series of tweets on Friday, Brandon Lewis stood by his position that the Stormont Executive is well-funded through the block grant as well as its own revenue raising capabilities.

However he also said he has taken the “exceptional approach” of offering access to funds set aside for the New Decade New Approach deal to “help the Executive manage the cost of the scheme”.

It is understood that Mr Lewis is referring to £100 million that was set aside to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past in the January 2020 deal which saw the resumption of devolved government.

Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy dismissed the suggestion as “not conducive to finding a solution for victims” and also claimed Mr Lewis has refused to meet with Executive ministers on the matter.

He contends that as Westminster legislated for the scheme, it should pay for it.

“On March 3 I wrote to the Secretary of State recommending that the Executive cover in full the costs of the scheme envisaged at Stormont House, with the British Government funding the rest of the scheme,” the Sinn Fein man said.

“This was a reasonable solution that would provide certainty for victims.

“In the subsequent two weeks Mr Lewis declined to meet Executive colleagues and I to discuss this proposition.

“Via social media the Secretary of State has today offered to divert money which is already set aside as part of New Decade New Approach and which is not additional.

“This is not a constructive approach to finding a resolution for victims.”

Last month, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that Stormont was under a legal duty to fund the payment scheme for injured victims of the conflict.

It made no finding on the source of that funding and gave the Executive and Northern Ireland Office four weeks to agree a solution.

A UK Government spokesperson denied the claim Mr Lewis refused to meet with Executive ministers.

"He has remained in contact with all the relevant Executive ministers on this issue. The Secretary of State has made clear the high priority which he places on having the Victims Payments scheme open and receiving applications as soon as possible," they said.

"This scheme is a devolved matter, and devolved matters are funded from the Block Grant.

"However, to enable the Executive to make progress for victims and manage the higher pressures in the early years of the scheme, we have taken the exceptional approach of offering access to NDNA funds that will help the Executive manage the cost of the scheme.

"This flexibility will substantially reduce the costs in those years where costs are more significant, meaning there is nothing now standing in the way of the Executive delivering the scheme as set out in legislation."