The NI Executive Office is acting unlawfully in delaying the introduction of a compensation scheme for injured Troubles victims, a judge has ruled.
Mr Justice McAlinden was ruling on a legal challenge to the delay brought to the High Court in Belfast.
The victims’ payments were approved by Westminster in January.
They would give regular payments to people seriously injured, but have been long delayed by arguments over the definition of a Troubles victim.
The judge said the Executive Office was deliberately stymieing the commencement of payouts in order to pressurise the government into funding it and, in Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill’s case, getting the eligibility criteria changed.
Ms O’Neill had declined to progress the scheme by refusing to allow the Executive Office – which she runs jointly with DUP First Minister Arlene Foster – to nominate a department to administer the pension payments.
Sinn Féin has said that the criteria for those who are eligible to apply potentially discriminates against some republicans with convictions from the Troubles.
Following Friday’s court ruling, Ms O’Neill said: “As joint head of government I remain committed to delivering a scheme, which is based on equality and open to everyone who was seriously physically and psychologically injured during the conflict.
“In light of the court ruling, therefore, I am left with no alternative other than to designate a department.
“However, that designation will require the Executive to work together to secure the additional funds from Westminster for the cost of the scheme and get further clarity on eligibility and applications.”