A former republican prisoner left paralysed by a loyalist gun attack has branded government plans for victims’ compensation payments as discriminatory.
Christy Cummings, from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, handed in a pre-action legal letter to the Northern Ireland Office at Stormont on Tuesday morning demanding changes to the draft regulations used to assess who will receive money.
Under the regulations, those convicted of serious terror offences during the Troubles would have to go before a judge-led independent panel to assess whether there were sufficient mitigating factors to justify the award of the compensation payments paid automatically to other injured people.
Anyone injured in the same incident for which they received a conviction are barred from payments.
The compensation scheme, which had been due to open to applications last month, has been stalled amid the row about eligibility and a separate dispute between Stormont and the Government over funding.
Mr Cummings, who was imprisoned for a hoax bomb incident during the Troubles, travelled to Stormont as Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald stated that there was a distinction between “combatants and civilian victims”.
But the Sinn Fein leader said no distinction should be drawn between different “combatants”, insisting republicans should be treated the same as those who served in the security forces when it comes to eligibility.
Mr Cummings was accompanied by his son Ruairi as he handed his letter to a security guard outside the main gates of Stormont House on Tuesday.
He was gunned down outside the Glengannon nightclub in Dungannon in 1997 by Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gunmen.
Fellow republican prisoner Seamus Dillon was murdered in the same attack and another doorman and 14-year-old waiter were injured.
The shooting was seen as a revenge attack by loyalists following the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright in the Maze prison hours earlier.
Mr Cummings was previously sentenced to 16 years, serving seven, for a hoax bomb incident during the Troubles and membership of a proscribed organisation. He still maintains his innocent and his case is currently being examined by the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC).
Prior to travelling to Stormont, Mr Cummings said: “Regulations on the payments to those injured contain the ability for widespread discrimination against me and many others injured through no fault of their own.
“The Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis) and some commentators have said in the media that this is not the case and that I can apply, which I can but the reality is that I can also be discriminated against and refused and therein lies the problem.
“The NIO has the ability to seek to block an application.”
When at Stormont, Mr Cummings did not feel up to speaking to the media.
His son Ruairi spoke on his behalf.
He said his father’s actions had prevented the gunmen entering the nightclub.
“He was shot and saved hundreds of lives that night and in our eyes and in everybody else’s eyes my father is a victim, just like hundreds and thousands of other people,” he said.
“He’s going to be declined this pension whereas in other societies and other modern days he would be a hero for saving lives.
“The playing field is not level.”
He added: “Mr daddy suffers psychologically and physically every single day and has done since this has happened.
“The pain never goes away for my father.”
Solicitor Niall Murphy said Mr Cummings and people in similar circumstances should not have to rely on the “whims” of an independent panel to qualify.
“His circumstances are such that he should be entitled as a matter of legal right in accordance with the legislation and it’s that inconsistency that we have sought to bring to the attention of the Secretary of State,” he said.
He said the regulations were a “nefarious” backdoor attempt to change the legal definition of a victim.
Sinn Fein has objected to the draft regulations, claiming the Government’s approach could potentially exclude thousands of injured victims from the nationalist and republican community.
Party president Mrs McDonald said the scheme had to be “even-handed, equitable and inclusive”.
She acknowledged there was a difference between civilians and “combatants”.
“I believe there is a clear distinction obviously between combatants and civilian victims, of course there absolutely is,” said told BBC Radio Ulster.
“What we will not support is a scheme that is very deliberately and rather crudely designed to be partisan and to be partial and to make judgments as to who was right and who was wrong in terms of the combatant groups in the conflict.
“I want everybody to be included, that’s how we heal, that’s how we move ahead.”
Mark Thompson from campaign group Relatives for Justice claimed the attack at the Glengannon Hotel involved collusion with the security forces.
“The people who provided the weapons who shot Christy, the people who sent them there and the people who failed to investigate it could get this pension, but he can’t, he has to go through a separate process, that’s why it is wrong.
“It’s not acceptable, it’s double standards.
“He’s the victim of a conflict through no fault of his own and he’s entitled to it.
“Yes, there were combatants, but the combatants are being treated with distinction when you compare state combatants with non-state combatants.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are carefully considering this letter and will respond in due course”.