Westminster warns against ‘unnecessary’ delays to Troubles compensation scheme
Any attempts to reopen issues connected to compensation payments for Troubles’ victims are “totally unnecessary”, the UK Government has warned.
Northern Ireland Office minister Robin Walker said such moves will also upset the “vast majority” of victims which need to be helped via the scheme.
Labour echoed that message and insisted politicians have a “moral and legal responsibility” to get the payments over the line.
In the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive at the time, MPs last year passed legislation to establish the scheme which will offer support payments ranging from £2,000 to £10,000 a year depending on the severity of the injury.
It was supposed to open to applications on May 29 but its future has been thrown into doubt amid a wrangle between Stormont and the UK Government over who foots the £100 million-plus bill.
Responding to an urgent question from Labour, Mr Walker told the House of Commons: “Much has been made in the media at the suggestion that funding is holding up the establishment of this scheme.
“This is not the case.
“Funding is not preventing the executive from being able to take the vital steps to unlock implementation.”
He said Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is in talks with executive ministers to designate a department to lead on the implementation of the scheme, noting: “The justice minister is prepared to lead on the scheme but Sinn Fein has been clear it wants to reopen the criteria by which eligibility for the scheme will be determined.
“This is already set in legislation and provides a fair basis for helping those who suffered most throughout the Troubles.
“It is therefore imperative that Sinn Fein, along with all the parties, enable the scheme to move forward as the time for delay is gone.”
Mr Walker later said: “Any attempts to reopen questions which have already been settled around the definition of victims or the role of the independent panel are totally unnecessary and would upset the vast majority of victims who we want to get on and get help through this scheme.”
For Labour, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said it is hard to overestimate how “re-traumatising” the experience of the delay to the scheme has been for many survivors.
She added: “All of us as politicians have a moral and legal responsibility to now get this scheme over the line.
“The legislation has been passed, the debates have been had, no-one should be standing in its way and the legislation, as passed, allows a judicial panel to determine on the more controversial cases.
“So any attempts to frustrate this or reopen questions over eligibility are not only disrespectful to victims but are utterly misplaced.”