Belfast High Court has ruled that Stormont’s executive office is acting unlawfully in delaying the introduction of a compensation scheme for victims of the Troubles.
The payments were approved by Westminster in January, but have been repeatedly delayed by a dispute over the definition of a victim in Northern Ireland.
Republicans believe former IRA members should be eligible for the scheme, but civilians injured during 30 years of violence object to that.
With Sinn Fein refusing to designate a department in the devolved government to implement it, two victims had challenged the delay in the High Court.
Mr Justice McAlinden, said there was a “clear, unconditional obligation” to designate a department and any argument to the contrary was “obtuse, absurd and irrational.”
During the hearing, the High Court judge had accused deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill of attempting to “subvert the rule of law for political ends.”
Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster immediately tweeted: “This is a welcome judgment. Now time for Sinn Fein to prioritise innocent victims rather than bombers.”
In a statement, Ms O’Neill, who is the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, said she remained convinced the scheme would be “exclusionary, discriminatory and divisive”.
But she conceded “in light of the court ruling” that she was left with “no alternative” other than to designate a department to implement it.
The challenge was brought by Jennifer McNern, who lost both legs in a bombing in 1972, and Brian Turley, a victim from the “hooded men” case.
Mr Turley, who was arrested and interrogated by the British Army in 1971, asked how the executive could explain “the profound unprofessionalism of their approach to victims”.
“As a survivor of torture, I was left with long-term injuries as a result of the actions of the state. The delay in having to wait on my right to a pension can only be described as another form of torture,” he added.
Ms McNern said she and other “forgotten victims and survivors” had campaigned for years and should not have had to take the case.
“None of us were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were at home with our families. We were at work. We were in a cafe having a coffee. We were coming home after a day out or an evening at the cinema,” she said.
“There were people in the wrong place and they catastrophically changed our lives for ever.”