A panel unilaterally set up by the British government to deal with the desire for truth and reconciliation following the peace process has begun public consultations, provoking anger and controversy over its role.

The panel, known as the ‘Eames-Bradley group’, is to publish a report on dealing with the legacy of thirty years of intense conflict in the North of Ireland.

Set up by the the former British Direct Ruler Peter Hain last June, the group is led by the former head of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland primate Robin Eames and former Policing Board vice chairman Denis Bradley.

At its first public meeting in Belfast this week, the legitimacy of the group and the manner of its appointment were repeatedly questioned from the floor.

There was also scepticism at the fact that no member of the panel present had suffered the loss of an immediate family member in the conflict.

The consultative group’s suggestion that an eventual amnesty for those involved in the conflict may be considered prompted anger by unionist hardliners.

There have also been reports that the group may recommend that the British government finally acknowledge that it was involved in a war.

Mr Bradley told the meeting nothing had been ruled in nor out.

Raymond McCord -- whose son’s murder led to the exposure of collusion between the PSNI police and the unionist paramilitary UVF in north Belfast -- accused the British government of appointing a group which “would not rock the boat”.

Sinn Féin victims spokesman Francie Molloy said the group was compromised in that it was established by the British government which was itself a party to the conflict.

“Sinn Féin have serious reservations about the group set up to examine ways of dealing with the past,” he said.

“The group was appointed by the British government and will report back to the British government which will have the final say on any recommendations.

“Given that the British State are protagonists in this conflict and not innocent onlookers this represents a clear conflict of interests.

“However, despite these concerns Sinn Féin have meet with Robin Eames and Denis Bradley to outline our views and we would encourage others to do likewise. The issue of truth recovery, of victims and the need for a healing process are crucial matters which need to be resolved in the time ahead.

“Sinn Féin are absolutely committed to the development of a process which can deliver closure for the families of those killed during the conflict. This process must be victim centred and must deal comprehensively with the issue. The key to dealing with this issue is ensuring that there is no hierarchy of victims.”

Commenting on the reports that the conflict may be recognised as a war, Mr Molloy said the hurt and suffering of the victims would not be addressed “by denying the reality of our history”.

“There is no dispute that the British government fought a war, it was a key protagonist in the war and should rightly acknowledge its role.

“It is hypocritical of unionists, who have been fixated on the words ‘the war is over’, to now try and claim that we have lived through anything other than a war.

“The war is over, now our focus should be on winning the peace including addressing key issues such as victims and survivors and how we deal with the past.”

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© 2008 Irish Republican News