Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 27th September 2021.

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Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 2:15 pm, 27th September 2021

6. Mr Storey asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister what additional support, both practical and financial, will be given to organisations representing victims following the commencement of the Troubles permanent disablement payment scheme. (AQO 2457/17-22)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

First, let me say how pleased we are that the scheme is open for applications. It is hoped that the opening of the scheme will have a positive impact for all who have suffered permanent disablement. We also put on record our thanks to the victims and survivors organisations for the support that they have provided to the implementation of the scheme and for the assistance that they are providing to help victims and survivors through the application process.

Funding was provided to the Victims and Survivors Service by TEO in the last financial year and this year to manage the anticipated demand for support and advice regarding the scheme. That funding provides an additional resource of 14 full-time equivalent welfare staff in Victims and Survivors Service-funded organisations and funding for additional administrative support. It will also enable the Victims and Survivors Service to provide ongoing coordination across the sector to ensure consistency of approach, collaborative working and learning, liaison between organisations and the Victims Payments' Board, referral of clients and monitoring and evaluation.

Part of the funding has been allocated to allow for any increases in demand for health and well-being services currently provided by Victims and Survivors Service-funded organisations. Officials will continue to meet a range of sector representatives to support meaningful and productive engagement on the scheme.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

It is so sad that we have come to a place where we have to provide money for people who have permanent disablement as a result of the acts of terrorists and those who endeavoured to take life. It is ironic that, in the House today, there are people who talk about preserving life but were quite happy to justify the taking of life.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Will the Member ask a question?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Will the deputy First Minister clarify whose responsibility it is to run the scheme? It seems as though the Minister of Justice has said, "I have created it, and now it is over to the Executive Office". Is that the case?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

First, it is so sad that anybody suffered in any way at all throughout the course of the conflict. Hurt was caused on all sides, and, whilst we will never agree —.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

You justified it.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Hurt was caused on all sides, and, whilst we will never agree on the past, we can agree to never drift backwards, to only move forwards, to build a better society for all and to ensure that we do not lumber today's generation with the past. Let us build for a better future, but let us do that together. That is certainly where I will focus all my efforts.

It is really important to note that, after taking a considerable period of time to get to this point, we, in the first instance, welcomed the fact that the scheme had opened. Justice was the Department that designed the scheme and put the practicalities, if you like, together. I am not interested in passing the buck around who is responsible. The work of the Victims and Survivors Service is all done through the Executive Office support scheme, so that is certainly our responsibility. I listened to Question Time last week, during which some of the questioners asked where the responsibility for the scheme now lies. The delivery of the scheme comes under the board. That is independent, in a sense, but supporting the victims through the scheme comes under TEO, and we will make sure that we play our part.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Will the joint First Minister give us an update on the provision for the funding of the scheme?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Thanks for that. At the outset, as I said, I am pleased to confirm that we have been able to get the scheme open. In the first instance, that is the best outcome. You will know that the funding of the scheme has put a huge pressure on the block grant, and you know that Ministers are working together. The Finance Minister is continuing the conversations he is having with the British Government on the fact that they took policy decisions that have implications for the Executive and that put huge financial strain on the Executive. Therefore, the Executive Office and the Minister of Justice continue to work together putting on pressure in order to ensure that we have the right funding and that the British Government actually live up to their commitment in their own statement of funding policy, which states that, where a decision is taken by the British Government and is imposed on a devolved Administration, they must foot the Bill.

It is really important that we continue with that, and I can confirm that the Finance Minister has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer requesting that he reconsider the Treasury's position on the funding of the scheme. He will also look at dispute mechanisms to raise the issue further, so I think that there is a journey to be travelled collectively in the Executive with the British Government in order to try to ensure that they provide sufficient funding to allow us to continue with the scheme.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

One of the main campaigners for the scheme was blown up on 4 March 1972. Can the Minister tell the House that she is certain that that victim will receive a payment before the fiftieth anniversary of their being confined to a wheelchair?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

First, as I said, I am very glad that the scheme has opened, and I think that victims have had to wait for far too long to get to this point. I will not discuss any individual's application in the House. That would be completely inappropriate, to say the least. I will ensure that all victims who have applied to the scheme receive their payment promptly. I believe that, since the scheme opened on 31 August, 421 applications have been received. I hope that they are processed as speedily as possible and that the support gets to victims as quickly as possible. If the Member wishes to query an individual's particular circumstances, I suggest that he does that through the appropriate channels rather than across the Chamber.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

Joint First Minister, many families who have been bereaved are excluded from the scheme. Is any representation being made on their behalf? There is a lot of misinformation and expectation right across the community, particularly among families who have suffered bereavement.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

We are very aware of the issues affecting bereaved families and survivors, and we are very keen to address their needs and, importantly, to acknowledge the loss that has been felt by so many people. We are delighted that the payment scheme for bereaved victims, administered by the Victims and Survivors Service, reopened in April. Again, we encourage all those who are eligible to get in touch with the service, because it can assist them with the process and provide them with additional support, like well-being support, which is also very important.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 27th September 2021

I call Stewart Dickson. You are not likely to get a supplementary.