Legal action over delayed compensation scheme for people injured in Troubles

Jennifer McNern lost both legs in bombing of the Belfast’s Abercorn restaurant in 1972

Jennifer McNern is taking a judicial review against the Executive Office at Belfast High Court over its failure to implement the legislation to create a compensation scheme for people injured during the Troubles. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Jennifer McNern is taking a judicial review against the Executive Office at Belfast High Court over its failure to implement the legislation to create a compensation scheme for people injured during the Troubles. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

 

A woman who was seriously injured in a bombing 48 years ago is to begin legal action against the Northern government today over delays to a compensation scheme for victims of the Troubles.

Jennifer McNern is taking a judicial review against the Executive Office at Belfast High Court over its failure to implement the legislation to create the scheme.

The provision for an annual payment to people who suffered physical or mental injury “through no fault of their own” was introduced by the North’s Secretary of State in January, and should have opened for applications on May 29th.

But the scheme remains stalled amid disputes over eligibility and whether the British government or the Northern Executive should pay for it.

Meanwhile, more than 500 people who sustained serious physical and psychological injuries continue to wait for the payments which, depending on the severity of their injuries, will be worth between £2,000 and £10,000 annually.

Ms McNern was 21 when she lost both legs in the bombing of the Abercorn restaurant in central Belfast in 1972. Her sister Rosaleen, who was about to be married, also lost her legs, as well as her right arm and an eye.

Two people, both young women, were killed in the explosion, which was widely blamed on the IRA. About 70 were injured.

‘Contempt’

Ms McNern, who as part of the WAVE Injured Group has been a longstanding campaigner for a pension for victims and survivors of the Troubles, said she was “sad and angry” that she had had to take legal action and felt they were being treated with “contempt”.

“All we ever wanted was to be treated with respect and dignity and not be left as part of the forgotten legacy of the Troubles,” said Ms McNern.

“When the legislation was passed at Westminster we thought we had achieved that, but the refusal by the Executive Office to implement the legislation is devastating.”

The North’s former Secretary of State, Lord Peter Hain, who is supporting Ms McNern’s action, said that she “should have to go to court to get Executive ministers to do what the law demands is a disgrace.

“There needs to be an end to this political intransigence and the scheme implemented without further delay.”

The UK government on Friday published guidance on eligibility for the scheme, which repeated that those who suffered injury by their own hand while carrying out a paramilitary attack will not be entitled to a payment.

Claimants will also be excluded where there is evidence of continuing paramilitary involvement, as is anyone who has served a prison sentence of more than 30 months, though this can be waived depending on individual circumstances.

Small step

The North’s first minister, the DUP leader Arlene Foster, said it was “another small step along the road to innocent victims receiving a pension which they rightly deserve”.

However, Sinn Féin argues the rules could be used to block people from a republican background from qualifying, with the party’s MLA Gerry Kelly describing the eligibility criteria as “exclusionary, discriminatory and unacceptable”.

Sinn Féin has refused to nominate the Department of Justice to administer the scheme, which is necessary to allow it to begin operation.

Meanwhile, North’s Executive remains at loggerheads with the UK government over who should pay for the scheme, with each insisting that it is the other’s responsibility.