NI govt calls for meeting with Westminster on Troubles pension scheme funding

The Northern Ireland (NI) Executive Office (EO) has submitted a bid for financial resources for the Troubles victims' pension scheme, emphasising that further financial certainty and discussion is needed from Westminster.

Responding to a question from Sinn Féin representative, Sinéad Ennis, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin vice president, Michelle O’Neill, confirmed that the EO had made financial bids in relation to the scheme as part of the budget 2021-24 information-gathering exercise.

In particular, the EO has made a bid for finances of £28.72m in 2021-22, £63.29m in 2022-23, and £72.8m in 2023-24.

However, Justice Minister, Naomi Long, previously argued that additional funding support would be required from Westminster, with upper cost estimates for the scheme reaching as much as £800m.

Indeed, in response to a follow up query from Ennis, O’Neill confirmed that the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, the Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, and Long had met on 22 September in order to discuss funding for the scheme.

At this time, the group agreed to make an urgent request for a meeting with the British secretary of state for NI, Brandon Lewis, to discuss the issue further.

However, a letter to Foster and O’Neill from Lewis, dated 26 October, set out the British government's position that the cost of the scheme should be met from within the block grant, and no meeting scheduled has been scheduled at this time.

O’Neill emphasised that this is "not a tenable or sustainable position".

"We will continue to raise the issues of finances and financial certainty, as I did with the British Prime Minister, until this matter is satisfactorily addressed," she added.

The scheme, which was initially expected to open to applications in May, has faced numerous delays since being signed into legislation in January, due to concerns from Sinn Féin that the eligibility rules were “discriminatory”, as well as broader issues around funding.

However, High Court in Belfast ruled in August that the EO had acted “unlawfully” in delaying the introduction of the scheme, 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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