Opening of victims' pension scheme delayed over medical guidance
The opening of a payment scheme for those seriously injured in the Troubles is to be delayed by a number of weeks, the Assembly heard.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said preparatory work is under way to open the scheme for applications as planned.
However she said there may be a delay of a number of weeks to allow for guidance around medical assessments to be provided to applicants.
Ms Long was asked about progress during Justice Minister questions by Independent MLA Trevor Lunn.
Her department is administering the Troubles Permanent Disablement Scheme.
The minister outlined work under way, including the development of an application form and IT system for online applications, the appointment of 26 members to the victims’ payment boards and Mr Justice McAlinden as president of the board, effective from today.
She said Capita has been appointed to design a medical assessment service.
Pressed by Mr Lunn on when applications can be submitted, Ms Long said the president has advised that he would like applicants to have access to the medical guidance before making their application.
“He has consulted with the main groups representing victims of the Troubles including the Wave Trauma Centre, Relatives For Justice, South East Fermanagh Foundation, the Ely Centre, the Commission for Victims and Survivors and the Victims and Survivors Service,” she said.
“On the basis of that engagement, Mr Justice McAlinden has concluded that the scheme should not open for applications until the guidance for carrying out the medical assessments has been fully designed and agreed by the Victims Payment Board.
“I understand it will take a number of weeks for guidance to be completed on the process for carrying out those assessments.”
She added: “My officials will be continuing to engage with representatives of the main groups who provide support to victims and survivors, and they will be kept updated on progress with development of the medical assessment guidance.
“They will also have an important input to the development of that guidance.”
Ms Long said she trusts the scheme will open for applications “at the earlier possible opportunity”.
“Victims have waited a long time for this scheme and I am keen to ensure they have access to it as soon as possible,” she said.
Meanwhile disagreement remains over who will pay the potential £1.2 billion total cost of the scheme, with Stormont arguing the London Government ought to pay for it because it legislated for the scheme.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has questioned Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy’s assertion that it does not have sufficient funds to pay for the scheme.