Stormont may have to look at revenue raising measures to help meet the cost of a payments scheme for Troubles victims, the Northern Ireland Finance Minister has said.
However, Conor Murphy told the Assembly that he doubted the administration had enough fundraising options open to it to generate the additional money to cover the bill for the payments to those physically or psychologically injured in the conflict.
He said top-slicing funding allocations from Executive departments was another way to find the money needed.
Mr Murphy’s comments to the Assembly came as the Executive continues to press the UK Government to part-fund a scheme that could end up costing £1.2 billion over its lifetime.
A legal stand-off between the Executive and Government over the funding ended when ministers in Belfast gave a formal undertaking to the Court of Appeal that they will ensure the scheme is paid for, come what may.
Despite that, ministers have insisted efforts to get the Treasury to stump up more cash will go on.
During Assembly question time, Mr Murphy was asked by independent MLA Trevor Lunn whether the Executive might have to consider using revenue raising powers, including water charges and lifting a cap on domestic rates bills, as a way to raise the money required.
The minister said there were a number of ways to get the funding in place.
“One such way is to top slice departments, pro rata, take the funding year-on-year that is required for the scheme off departments’ budgets if we don’t have any additional support to do this from Treasury,” he said.
“Other ways are to look at fundraising. But I have to say, certainly over the first four to five years, the costs associated with this could be so significant I doubt if there’s any fundraising capability within the Executive to match that.”
Earlier, Mr Murphy told MLAs top slicing would be a “last resort”.
“If we end up in a situation where the Government refuse to provide some support to us to pay for the victims’ pension scheme, the only alternative that the Executive will have to meet the payments is to take the money off departments on a pro rata basis,” he said.
“That is certainly not where we want to go, because it pits the provision of vital public services against the needs of victims.”
The Government has suggested that £100 million of Treasury funding earmarked for issues related to Northern Ireland’s “unique circumstances” in the deal to restore Stormont could be used to part-fund the scheme.
Mr Murphy has rejected this proposal, insisting it does not amount to an additional funding commitment.