Northern Ireland news

Baroness Nuala O'Loan calls for British government to foot victims' pension bill as stand-off over responsibility rumbles on

Baroness Nuala O'Loan described the current situation as deeply unfair to the surviving victims of the Troubles. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE stand-off over who pays the victims' pension looks set to continue with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis again insisting that the executive must bear the cost.

As the minister's Labour counterpart Louise Haigh said he had "washed his hands of any responsibility to victims", former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan said the British government should foot the bill of up to an estimated £800 million.

Westminster legislated on the victims' pension scheme last year after Stormont failed to resolve the issue. The Department of Justice has been designated to oversee the scheme, with administration costs expected to be covered in the regional budget. However, who covers the much greater sum for payments to victims is still in dispute with Finance Minister Conor Murphy insisting it is the responsibility of the British government.

Baroness O'Loan described the current situation as a "stalemate" that was "deeply unfair" to the surviving victims of the Troubles.

"It is ludicrous and deeply immoral to think of placing the resource burden of legacy solutions on a small devolved region," she said.

The former police ombudsman said dealing with the legacy was a "vital ingredient of a secure peace in the future"

"It is now a dereliction of duty by the UK government to refuse to carry the burden of essential legacy costs, in this case the Victims Payment Scheme," she said.

"I urge all those in political life in Britain, my colleagues at Westminster in the House of Lords and House of Commons, and all those who care about the victims of the Troubles to put pressure on the UK government to accept its responsibilities."

But the secretary of state remained adamant that the scheme was Stormont's responsibility, yesterday tweeting: "This is a devolved matter - as such, the executive must fund it from the block grant they receive from the UK government, which stands at over £14 billion."

Speaking earlier at Westminster, he said there was a "moral and ethical duty" to ensure victims gained access to the scheme as quickly as possible.

"The Department of Finance need to ensure they do not play games with victims and their pensions and ensure money is made available to the Department of Justice to get on with delivering the programme," he said.

Justice Minister Naomi Long described Mr Lewis's comments as "disappointing and disingenuous".

"As I said (at the assembly's justice committee) yesterday, if we approach this together constructively, a solution can be found to ensure the pension to be realised and end uncertainty for victims," she tweeted.

"I don't think that is an unreasonable position."

In the House of Lords, DUP peer Nigel Dodds called for the British government to "step up in terms of the financing of the scheme".

"Sinn Féin’s finance minister must also work constructively in the executive to find solutions so that the innocent victims get the help they deserve," he said.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey described the stalemate as "intolerable" and said the British government had a responsibility to ensure the pension was paid on time to victims.

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