Following the announcement last months that the Department of Justice had been chosen to administer the victims’ payment scheme, DoJ Minister Naomi Long has welcomed the payments as both ‘positive’ and ‘overdue’.
The scheme has been developed to provide payments to compensate victims and survivors of the troubles who have been forced to live with severe injuries as a result.
Justice Minister Naomi Long: “I have consistently been of the view that victims should not have to endure any further unnecessary delay, which is why I volunteered my Department could be designated to deliver a Victims’ Payments Scheme.
“Last month’s formal designation means the Department of Justice can begin to put in place administrative functions on behalf of the Victims’ Payments Board, for when it is established.
“That we have finally got to this point is extremely welcome – but I understand why many are concerned about any potential further delay. I share those frustrations and want to reassure those who are waiting on this scheme that we are doing everything in our power to move things forward.
“We have a small pot of money to begin this work and a project team has been established to advance the development of delivery structures for the new scheme. We currently estimate that it could open for applications by early March 2021, but we are making every effort to shorten that timescale if at all possible.
“However, a number of important operational steps – not all of them within my Department’s direct control – need to be advanced to actually implement the scheme; not least the development of an IT system, development of a medical assessment process and appointment of members to the Victims’ Payments Board.
The Minister however was not able to say when payment would begin, stating that this would be a matter for the “victims’ Payments Board when established”, going on also to say:
“It will also depend on how quickly evidence can be gathered to allow applications to be assessed, which is why my officials are already in contact with the Public Records Office NI, the PSNI and others about how data can be accessed by the panel.
“I am only too mindful of the understandable expectations of victims and survivors who need this important financial support and who have campaigned in a courageous and dignified way to get it. For their sakes, it is important that we get this right. It is important that we balance expediency with ensuring due diligence.
“Given how often victims and survivors have been let down over the years, I will not over-promise and under-deliver on such an important scheme: I am, however, determined to do all that is possible to get it delivered as soon as possible.
“Although the Westminster regulations came into force on May 29, the critical issue of longer term funding for the scheme remains outstanding. I am strongly of the view that the UK Government has an obligation to make the necessary funding available and I am committed to working with the Secretary of State, Treasury and Executive colleagues to ensure that it is put in place. That must now be our focus.
The justice minister concluded: “Victims and survivors of the Troubles have already waited too long and had to fight too hard to have this important scheme in place. I am determined to work with my Executive colleagues to ensure that there are no further blockages to delivering it.“