DoJ appointed to administer Troubles pension scheme; costs of up to £800m predicted

The Northern Ireland (NI) Executive Office has designated the Department of Justice (DoJ) to administer the Troubles victims' pension scheme following a High Court ruling that previous delays were “unlawful”.

The Executive Office has also agreed to provide the DoJ with grants to establish the administrative arrangements for the scheme.

This will enable the recruitment of board members, as well IT developments and other steps needed to establish the board before proceeding.

The designation follows the recent High Court ruling that the Executive Office had acted “unlawfully” in delaying the introduction of a pension scheme for victims of the trouble by “deliberately refusing” to designate a department to administer the scheme.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, NI Executive Justice Minister Naomi Long, stated that it was “regrettable” that Troubles victims had been forced to go to court to move the scheme forward, adding that the DoJ was “not the best placed department” considering the complexities involved.

Long also clarified that the source of the funding is still not clear, emphasising that additional support will be required from Westminster, with upper cost estimates for the scheme reaching as much as £800m.

However, she added: "I am certainly not going to sit back and do nothing until we have an agreement on the money.

"I will get my part of the job done and it will then be for others to step up to the plate and ensure that there are no delays when it comes to funding the scheme."

Long continued: “We do not have a system that already does weekly or monthly payments, so it is something that we are going to have to develop.

"I am very pleased that the department will be taking this forward. There are still a lot of issues that have to be resolved in terms of the long-term finance.

“But I think those issues we can work together on in parallel with the work developing the scheme.

"That is the most important thing, is that we have now taken the pause button off of this scheme and we can move forward."

Expanding on her comments on BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show, Long clarified that the cost was higher than previously expected as the scheme had been extended to include those who have been psychologically injured.

She emphasised that the £800m figure was a “worst case scenario”, adding that whilst the number are “very uncertain”, unlike physical injuries, the number of those psychologically injured could be anywhere between 2,500 and 7,000.

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.

The UK government published further eligibility criteria guidance for the pension scheme earlier this month, reiterating that those injured “at their own hand”, or with a criminal conviction where they were found to have caused serious harm to someone else, will not be eligible for the compensation.

Speaking after the ruling, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin vice president, Michelle O’Neil maintained that the scheme is "exclusionary, discriminatory and divisive".

She stated however, that in light of the court ruling she was left “with no alternative other than to designate a department”.

O'Neil has emphasised that the pension scheme is “not an executive scheme” but had been legislated at Westminster, with the Executive being “forced to implement it”.

She added: “It is not the type of scheme envisaged under the Stormont House Agreement and is completely inconsistent with the legal and agreed definition of a victim.

“It remains a matter of huge concern that this Westminster scheme was designed without input or consultation from Executive Ministers or indeed parties in the Assembly. This represents yet another manifestation of British bad faith in Ireland."

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