Court of Appeal gives NI EO 4 weeks to reach Troubles pension funding solution

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Northern Ireland (NI) Executive Office (EO) has a legal duty to fund the Troubles victims' pension scheme and has set a four week deadline to find a solution.

The court ruled that under the Victims’ Payments Regulations 2020, the EO was required to fund payments and lump sums to ensure that the board can make the necessary payments to Troubles victims.

The court gave no view on the broader dispute between the NI Executive and the NI Office on the source of funding, and has adjourned the appeal for four weeks to allow the parties to find an agreed solution.

However, if this is not possible, the case will then be relisted on notice to the Department of Finance as an additional notice party.

The judgement upholds the previous ruling from the High Court, which in August found that the NI EO had acted “unlawfully” in delaying the introduction of a pension scheme for victims of the troubles.

The NI Executive Office has since designated the Department of Justice to administer the pension scheme, which warned however, that additional support would be required from Westminster, after upper cost estimates for the scheme reached as much as £800m.

Indeed, the NI EO confirmed that it had submitted a bid for financial resources for the Troubles victims’ pension scheme in November 2020, although it also emphasised that further financial certainty and discussions were needed from Westminster.

Secretary of State for NI, Brandon Lewis, however, recently urged Stormont’s Department of Finance not to “play games” over the funding of the pension scheme, calling on the House of Commons to ensure that progress on funding is “not diverted”.

The scheme, which was expected to open to applications in May, has faced numerous delays despite being signed into legislation in January, primarily due to concerns from NI pollical party, Sinn Féin, that the eligibility rules were “discriminatory”, as well as broader issues over who would fund the scheme.

However, August's High Court ruling found that these delays were unlawful, with the judge stating that EO had refused to designate a department to administer the scheme in order to pressure Brandon Lewis to make a different scheme funded by Westminster, with different entitlement rules.

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