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Belfast bomb victim Jennifer McNern begins court bid over Troubles pension

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Jennifer McNern who lost both legs in the Abercorn bombing

Jennifer McNern who lost both legs in the Abercorn bombing

PA

Jennifer McNern who lost both legs in the Abercorn bombing

A woman who lost both her legs in a Belfast restaurant bombing has said victims have been treated with "contempt" as a High Court challenge over delays to a Troubles pension begins today.

Jennifer McNern was 21 when a bomb believed to have been planted by the IRA exploded in the crowded Abercorn Restaurant in the city centre on March 4, 1972.

She had been having coffee with her sister Rosaleen who also lost both legs, her right arm and an eye in the explosion.

Two young women, Anne Owens (22) and Janet Bereen (21), died instantly in the blast while many more were seriously injured.

Although legislation for a scheme to compensate victims of the Troubles has been passed, there has been no agreement between Stormont and the Government on who should foot the £100m bill. Those considered eligible would receive between £2,000 and £10,000 annually.

On Friday, another row emerged after new Government guidance stated that anyone convicted of causing serious harm during the Troubles would not be eligible. Those with a recent terrorism conviction of any sort will also be unable to access the money, according to the guidance.

Sinn Fein has claimed it will exclude thousands of republican and nationalist victims while unfairly protecting state forces, and have refused to assign the scheme to the Department of Justice.

Frustrated with the long-running delays, Ms McNern has taken a judicial review against the "devastating" refusal of the Executive to administer the scheme.

Speaking ahead of the first hearing today, she said: "I have been with the Wave Injured Group from the beginning of the campaign for recognition and acknowledgement for the severely injured.

"It's been 10 long and hard years. We have never looked for sympathy. All we ever wanted was to be treated with respect and dignity and not be left as the part of the forgotten legacy of the Troubles."

The effort is being supported by the former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, now Lord Hain.

"The treatment of severely injured victims and survivors by the Executive Office is shameful," he said. "That Jennifer 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."

Ms McNern added: "It shows how little the Executive Office thinks of severely injured victims and survivors that they were not even going to let us know that the scheme was not going to be implemented.

"We were told nothing until days before we were due to submit applications.

"We feel like we are being treated with contempt".

She said the urgency for progress was highlighted after the sudden death of Paddy Cassidy, a member of the Wave Injured Group who died just days before the scheme was due to open.

She said: "His death brought home to us all that time is not on our side. We need action now".

The delays were also criticised yesterday as "a great stain on the record of this Government" by Ulster Human Rights Watch.

Its advocacy manager Axel Schmidt said: "There are no words to describe the cruelty of this quite shameful abdication of responsibility by the national Government.

"This was legislation passed by the UK Parliament and the scheme is, therefore, a national scheme.

"If the local Executive is incapable of implementing the scheme, then it is the job of Government to step in to end this stalemate."

Belfast Telegraph