Political news

David Ford seeking clarity over funds to tackle paramilitarism

David Ford claimed "mixed messages had muddied the waters" over Treasury funds to tackle paramilitarism. Picture by David Young, Press Association

FORMER justice minister David Ford has said he has written to Secretary of State James Brokenshire in the hope of "clearing up the confusion" around funds to tackle paramilitarism.

The ex-Alliance leader has also asked the finance minister to make an "unambiguous statement" to the assembly.

There have been conflicting signals over the status of £25m of British Treasury funding over five years to combat paramilitary activity.

The money is designed to match Stormont funds committed under last year's Fresh Start agreement.

Three weeks ago finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir appeared to suggest in the assembly that funding was being withheld by the British government.

"The secretary of state has advised that the UK government funding will not be released until the executive agrees a more detailed action plan," the minister said.

"The Department of Justice will be progressing this to ensure access to this funding is secured."

However, within 24 hours of his remarks, Mr Ó Muilleoir's department issued a statement in which he said "despite claims to the contrary" the Treasury funds were never at risk.

He confirmed that the executive had already allocated £3.8m this year to tackle paramilitary activity.

The statement also said: "While the executive has not yet accessed the funding provided by the British government, this funding is secure and it will be drawn down at the appropriate times, over the five-year period, once plans are agreed – the funding is not tied to specific yearly profiles."

On Monday, justice minister Claire Sugden also told the assembly that the money had never been in doubt.

"It is not the case that the Northern Ireland Office or the secretary of state has refused money, indeed they sit on our programme board and are working with us when we want to draw this money down," she said.

"We are not going to draw down money for the sake of optics – we are going to draw it down for the sake of using it in the most effective and efficient way and indeed that has been the process to date."

However, Mr Ford claimed yesterday that "mixed messages from the executive have muddied the waters".

He said he had written to James Brokenshire in the hope that the secretary of state would "bring clarity to a very confusing situation".

The former justice minister said Mr Ó Muilleoir should also make a statement in the assembly to clarify the remarks he made in the chamber on October 25.

"If in the subsequent statement the minister is contradicting what he told the house then he ought to correct that in the proper manner," Mr Ford said.

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