A multi-pronged British strategy to protect their own while downplaying collusion and the rights of nationalist victims could provoke a crisis in the peace process later this year.
Proposals to deal with thousands of the victims of the conflict are to be brought before the Belfast Assembly this autumn.
Speaking on Monday, First Minister Ian Paisley said that measures to improve services for sufferers and combat the legacy of the past would be introduced early in the new session of the legislature. He was speaking during a debate in the Belfast Assembly.
“I have a clear message to those victims who still suffer, ‘you are not forgotten nor will you ever be forgotten’,” he said. “I have discovered that tears have no political colour, they have no religious colour.”
But Paisley, speaking during a motion urging the establishment of a victims’ and survivors’ forum, was accused of being disingenuous and advancing a sectarian strategy.
Paisley was advocating a recent report by Interim Victims’ Commissioner Bertha McDougall. The widow of an RUC policeman -- controversially appointed to the post as a concession to the DUP -- Ms McDougall has called for a fund for members of the British Army’s Defence Regiment, similar to the existing police fund.
Jennifer McCann, Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast criticised her report. “Nowhere in Bertha Mc Dougall’s report is their any mention of collusion or acknowledgment by the British State of its responsibility for, and its role as a protagonist in, the conflict,” she said.
Sinn Féin are to oppose any implementation of Mrs McDougall’s paper.
Meanwhile, republicans have attacked a judicial decision to issue substantial payouts to members of the RUC/PSNI police on the basis that they have suffered stress and trauma during the conflict.
The compensation is expected to top 100 million pounds and it is believed that more than half the RUC/PSNI men, nearly half of them retired, will be eligible.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Francie Molloy said the ruling had effectively issued “a blank cheque” to former members of the RUC and ignored the “fact that this force is discredited, was involved in murder, torture, collusion and human rights abuses. Compensating those involved in this type of activity will justifiably anger victims, particularly at a time when victims’ organisations are crying out for proper funding”.
But DUP South Antrim MP William McCrea criticised Mr Molloy’s “disrespect”, describing the RUC/PSNI personnel as “innocent victims” with “legitimate needs”.
He said the move could be compared with the rehabilitation funding made available to former political prisoners.
In related news, there has been criticism of a remark by the new Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, that a line should be “drawn in the sand” regarding historic investigations.
Among the cases on the Ombudsman’s books are the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson and the UVF killing of six people at Loughinisland, County Down in 1994.
The role of police informer Mark Haddock in at least 10 further killings, revealed during Nuala O’Loan’s investigation into the murder of 22-year-old Raymond McCord in 1997 are also being investigated.
The murdered man’s father Raymond McCord snr said he was “deeply disappointed” and vowed to have nothing to do with the ombudsman’s office once Mr Hutchinson takes up his post.
NO TO BRITISH PANEL
And three groups representing victims of the conflict have rejected the British government’s consultative panel on how to deal with the past.
A panel of establishment figures was appointed last week by former British Secretary Peter Hain to assess the “legacy of violence”.
However, Justice for the Forgotten, the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice say no single party to the conflict is in a position to appoint such a panel.
They say the British government is not an outsider to the conflict, despite its attempts to distance itself from responsibility.
Any consultative panel, they say, must involve international members and representatives of victims, and must be transparent, inclusive and island-wide.