The relatives of those killed by British forces in the north of Ireland have criticised the emphasis placed on so-called “recognition payments” to be paid by the British government to their families as a way of dealing with the past conflict.
It was suggested by Britain’s ‘truth panel’ this week that families would receive the same amount -- twelve thousand pounds -- regardless of whether their loved one was a republican Volunteer, member of the Crown forces, loyalist or a civilian.
Amid unionist hysteria, and on the eve of Bloody Sunday anniversary, the plan overshadowed more controversial proposals to ban further public inquiries and wind down investigations into collusion and other Crown force actions during Britain’s ‘Dirty War’.
A media circus erupted at the Europa Hotel in Belfast on Wednesday following ugly confrontations and chest-beating protests by unionist hardliners, infuriated at the suggestion that victims of the conflict would be treated equally.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, PSNI police chief Hugh Orde and other prominent actors in the North were present as shouting, jostling, and finger-pointing broke out ahead of the launch of the report by Britain’s unilaterally-appointed ‘Consultative Group on the Past’.
There were some suggestions that the payments controversy had been deliberately stoked by the British goverment to deflect from its efforts to cover up for state killings in the North.
Politicians in the North are to debate the controversial proposals next week, although the plan has already been dismissed by the DUP’s First Minister, Peter Robinson and received equally poorly by victimss groups.
Mark Thompson of ‘Relatives for Justice’ said there can be no price put on truth and justice.
“As we collectively attempt to find an agreed way forward in terms of a truth recovery process, the singular focus on the money is not helpful to achieving that aim,” he said.
“Reparations should come at the end of a process of truth recovery focusing on individual acts of human rights violations, patterns of abuse and the nature and causes of the conflict.
“To address reparations in this way would avoid the type of hysterical reactions, especially from unionists, concerning who should receive the money.”
Mr Thompson said an independent truth process was now needed.
“That will allow us to see a more accurate narrative of the conflict.
“If we fully apply the unionist logic, the families of RUC and British army members would also not be entitled to anything, given their roles in collusion and shoot-to-kill.
“Essentially, this is a nothing argument and a distraction from the core focus of the truth.”
The Eames/Bradley group called for the appointment of a three-strong Legacy Commission. The commission would take over functions of the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman’s office, with a view to terminating all investigations and inquiries within five years.
If accepted by the British and Irish governments, this would undermine the campaign for a cross-Border tribunal of inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bomb, which killed 31 people.
Michael Gallagher of the Omagh Support and Self-Help Group said he was dismayed by the suggestion that there would be no further public inquiries, as he believed such an inquiry represented the only means to establish all the circumstances surrounding the Omagh bomb.
Marion Walsh, whose 17-year-old son Damien was shot dead by a UDA gunman in 1993, said the 12,000 pound payout is a “paltry sum” and that her main concern was the possibility that a truth commission could take over investigations from the Police Ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
“It seems to me 12,000 pounds is just crumbs from the table to shut people up. Many of the people who lost someone in the Troubles live on benefits and sickness benefits because of what happened to them. This will do them for a while but it’s not going to last people very long.
“But my big issue is that they are talking about doing away with the Police Ombudsman and HET. In my son’s case I have just started to get somewhere with the HET and now it might be scrapped.
“All the cases will be set back by being handed over to a new team while the people who are responsible for it all get away with it.”
Paul Teggart, whose father Danny was shot 14 times in the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971, said the suggested pay-out is an insult to the memory of victims.
“I would class the 12,000 pounds as an insult to the memory of our loved ones. There is no price you can put on someone’s life.
“Money has never been part of our campaign, our campaign is for truth and justice and the acknowledgment that our victims were innocent people.
“Compensation has never been an issue to us and this offer is an insult,” added Paul.
Raymond McCord Snr, who carried on a one-man campaign to expose that RUC Special Branch had protected the notorious Mount Vernon UVF gang led by Mark Haddock, said “politicians are always telling victims’ families what they want, regardless of what is actually good for us as victims”.
His son was killed by Haddock’s gang in order to protect his identity as a British agent.
“I don’t believe there should be a truth commission, I believe the majority of victims’ families want to see people charged and in the dock,” he said.
The Derry based Pat Finucane Centre described the row over the cash payment as a “smokescreen”.
“For us the important thing is the truth recovery, it isn’t about a one-off payment,” said Paul O’Connor of the PFC.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams warned against the setting up of a proposed commission “established by and answerable to the British Government”.
Mr Adams also criticised the proposal for a government-appointed Legacy Commission.
“This is not the independent and international commission, established by a reputable international body like the UN, that Sinn Féin believes is necessary to properly address this issue,” he said.
“The British State are protagonists in this conflict, they are not innocent observers.
“There are many victims’ organisations that fear that the Eames-Bradley proposals will not recognise this reality and allow the British State to continue its policy to date of cover-up and concealment,” he added.