Coronavirus: Free school meals money not signed off

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Executive ministers were unable to sign off on funding for children entitled to free school meals at their meeting on Monday.

It was one of a number of key financial decisions they were unable to make.

The BBC understands this was due to a dispute between Sinn Féin and the DUP over the failure to implement a payment scheme for victims of the Troubles.

The decision to extend the free school meals scheme over the summer was announced last Friday.

On Monday, there was widespread welcome for Stormont’s announcement that up to six people from different households will now be able to meet indoors, provided they distance themselves.

However, ministers were also meant to sign off on a £12m package to extend the free school meals scheme, as well as cash for the health service and local airports.

Those decisions did not make it on to the agenda.

The BBC has been told this was due to arguments within the Executive Office over whether funding to set up a victims’ pension scheme should also be approved.

Sinn Féin objects to the scheme because some former paramilitaries will not get payments.

It is uncertain whether the dispute will be resolved in time for the next executive meeting on Thursday, or if another way might be found to rubber stamp the free school meals package.

Both the Democratic Unionist Party and the Northern Ireland Office has accused Sinn Féin of blocking the Troubles, pension payments by refusing to nominate the Justice Department to oversee the scheme.

Sinn Féin said the guidelines shared with the party so far discriminated against former prisoners and were far removed from the proposed legislation.

Direct payments for the school meals had originally been scheduled to end on 30 June.

On Friday, Education Minister Peter Weir said the executive had agreed to extend it during the summer break.

It came after Westminster agreed to extend the scheme in England following a campaign by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.

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