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Injured Troubles victims express anger and dismay at pension delay

The scheme is not set to open on schedule amid a stand-off between Stormont and the Government over who should stump up £100 million to pay for it.

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Alex Bunting returns to Boyne Bridge in South Belfast where he lost a leg following a booby-trapped bomb attack (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alex Bunting returns to Boyne Bridge in South Belfast where he lost a leg following a booby-trapped bomb attack (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alex Bunting returns to Boyne Bridge in South Belfast where he lost a leg following a booby-trapped bomb attack (Liam McBurney/PA)

Severely injured Troubles victims have expressed anger and dismay that a long-fought-for pension scheme is set to be delayed again.

The scheme had been due to open to applications on May 29 but First Minister Arlene Foster has acknowledged that progress has been hampered amid a stand-off with the Government over who should pay for it.

It is understood the Executive Office has yet to appoint a lead department to administer the scheme.

Jennifer McNern lost both her legs in the IRA bomb attack on the Abercorn Restaurant in Belfast in 1972.

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Jennifer McNern said victims were being kicked down the road again (Liam McBurney/PA)

Jennifer McNern said victims were being kicked down the road again (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Jennifer McNern said victims were being kicked down the road again (Liam McBurney/PA)

The 69-year-old from south Belfast, who campaigned for the pension, said the delay would have a “devastating effect” on victims.

“It’s just victims and survivors, especially people living with appalling injuries, just being kicked down the road again,” she said.

“Something or someone is blocking it and, whatever it is, victims and survivors need to know that, they need to be told what it is, the deadline is going to be missed on the 29th, so there needs to be a new and appropriate deadline put in place.

“I am angry and I’m shocked, to tell you the truth, I am pretty dismayed by it all, especially at such a late stage and especially when it’s legislated for, it’s in law.”

MPs at Westminster legislated for the scheme last year.

The Government signed off on regulations to establish it earlier this year with the Stormont Executive handed the responsibility to develop it.

The scheme is set to cost about £100 million.

The payment in the first year is set to be much higher than the recurring costs thereafter, because successful applicants will initially be able to claim backdated payments to 2014, when the idea of a victims pension was first approved in the Stormont House Agreement.

Thousands of applicants are anticipated, with pension awards varying from £2,000 to £10,000 a year depending on the severity of injury.

In some cases, a relative of those injured may qualify for the scheme.

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Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith set out the regulations for the scheme in January (Liam McBurney/PA)

Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith set out the regulations for the scheme in January (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith set out the regulations for the scheme in January (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alex Bunting, 65, had a leg blown off in an under-car bomb attack in Belfast in 1991.

The taxi driver, who lives in Bangor, was targeted by the IRA in a case of mistaken identity.

He has also been a long-time campaigner for the pension.

“Everybody is dumbfounded, they are caught on the hop,” he said of the delay.

“There’ll be a lot of anger and disappointment and it’ll put some people over the edge.

“You jump through all the hoops, you do all the work, and then all of a sudden, what do they do, they turn round and let the people down here in Northern Ireland who have suffered the most when it comes to, like, conflict.

“I am actually personally disgusted at the way it has panned out.”

The Executive Office and Northern Ireland Office has been asked for comment.

DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This pension was a massive step forward for innocent victims.

“I have spoken with the Secretary of State this afternoon and urged him to stand by the legislation passed in Westminster and fund the pension.

“It is unseemly that these deserving people are being let down due to the Government not releasing funding.

“The Northern Ireland Civil Service will administer the scheme, but Treasury needs to release funds for Northern Ireland to afford the pension.”

A UK Government spokesman said it made legislation establishing a victims payments scheme in January – fulfilling its legal obligation and its commitment to support the progression of this scheme.

“The Northern Ireland Executive committed to ‘finding a way forward’ on this issue in 2014 and should now put aside its differences to deliver for victims.

“As this is a devolved matter, funding for the scheme should come from the Executive’s block grant.”

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