Daughter of top republican waives anonymity in abuse compensation bid

Mary Meehan was abused by her stepmother but has been denied a pay-out under the terms of a government scheme
Mary Meehan was abused by her stepmother but has been denied a pay-out under the terms of a government scheme

A woman subjected to child cruelty by her former Sinn Fein councillor stepmother has waived a right to anonymity as she renews her legal challenge to being refused compensation.

Judges at the Court of Appeal in Belfast lifted reporting restrictions after being told Mary Meehan does not want her identity protected.

The 47-year-old is challenging a scheme that denies pay-outs to victims of historic abuse who lived under the same roof as perpetrators.

In 2013 her stepmother and former guardian, Briege Meehan, 71, admitted child cruelty and assault charges, receiving a suspended prison sentence.

The offences allegedly occurred between July 1979 and October 1980.

At the time Briege Meehan was the girlfriend of Martin Meehan, a senior north Belfast republican either on the run or remanded in custody on IRA-related charges.

The abuse began after Mary Meehan’s mother died and the assailant moved into the family home to live with her father in the Ardoyne area, a previous court heard.

Initial physical assaults involved hair pulling, tripping up the applicant and throwing her clothes on the floor.

It was claimed that after her father was imprisoned the abuse worsened until she was taken into care.

Briege Meehan, a former Sinn Fein councillor in Newtownabbey with an address at Elmfield Street in Belfast, was suspended by the party after the abuse allegations surfaced in 2009.

Her stepdaughter launched judicial review proceedings against the Department of Justice after a criminal injuries compensation panel turned down an application for compensation.

Under legislation dating back to the 1970s, pay-outs were not made in cases where the abuser and perpetrator lived in the same household.

The rationale was based on difficulties in establishing the facts, and to ensure no benefit to the offender.

Although the law has since been amended, the bar remains in place for historic cases.

Ms Meehan’s legal team argued that the policy breaches their client’s human rights.

Counsel claimed it was unfair to deny her when it has already been established beyond reasonable doubt that she was the victim of physical abuse.

It was contended that if she had been abused by her next door neighbour she would be entitled to compensation.

She is now appealing a High Court ruling that the position was justified.

Her barrister, Ronan Lavery QC, told senior judges the policy was discriminatory and anachronistic.

Tony McGleenan QC, responding for the department, countered that the scheme must be evaluated in its totality.

“We don’t take any issue with the history of this case and the actual account given by the applicant of the ordeal she has suffered,” he added.

“However, this is a challenge to the scheme as a whole, not simply the application to her case.”

As the appeal continued Ms Meehan explained her reasons for waiving the right to anonymity and pressing on with her legal fight.

“I just want to highlight the case and change the law to help everybody who has suffered,” she said outside court.

“It’s not about the money, it’s to show this is unfair towards someone who suffered abuse and continues to suffer.

“Because I lived under the same roof I’m not entitled to a penny – I just feel that I have been discriminated against all my life.”