The issue of compensation for victims of the conflict in Ireland has become enmeshed in a political row over Anglo-Libyan relations and oil deals believed to be worth billions.
The release from prison on humanitarian grounds of Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, caused the initial furore in the British media.
Accused of blowing up Pan Am flight 103, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, Mr al Megrahi had always protested his innocence, claiming he was a “fall guy”.
His release outraged Lockerbie victims, fuelling a series of angry editorials and bitter criticism of the Scottish government. It was widely linked to potential multi-billion dollar contracts for British companies to exploit Libya’s oil reserves, the largest in Africa.
Amid the furore, a group representing those killed or injured in the IRA’s armed campaign found traction for its call for compensation from the Libyan government. It has sought the money on the basis that the IRA sourced some of its arms from Libya.
After initally dismissing the call, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown quickly sought to deflect the torrent of negative publicity by offering to provide logistical support for the group’s legal claim before the Libyan courts.
Libya made it clear that it will continue to refute any such compensation claims.
“Anyone can knock on our door and ask for money,” said Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi. “But we go to the courts. They have their lawyers, we have our lawyers.”
The victims’ lawyer, Jason McCue, who will secure support for his legal effort, said he was “overjoyed” by the news.
But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams pointed out that the larger issue of compensation for all of the victims of the conflict would have to be addressed.
Mr Adams said he spoke to Downing Street officials and to British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward on the issue.
He referred particularly to those those killed by the British state, its agents and its death squads.
“I told them there could be no hierarchy of victims,” he said.
“Sinn Fein would certainly support compensation for all victims.
“Some victims were killed directly by British agents, others by their surrogates.
“British state forces have also killed or injured many citizens.
“British intelligence agencies have armed unionist paramilitaries, including Ulster Resistance, which was established by the DUP.
“The British have also collaborated with unionist paramilitaries to bring illegal shipments of arms into Ireland.
“The most infamous of these involved the apartheid regime in South Africa.”
Mr Adams said republicans were “not surprised” by the “hypocritical” stance of successive British governments on this issue.
“Gordon Brown’s position is totally inconsistent but this is in keeping with London’s longstanding game playing on this important matter.
“Another example of this is to be found in Shaun Woodward’s recent dismissal of the Eames/Bradley Commission proposal for an acknowledgement payment to all victims.
“The fact is the British government is a player in all of these issues. It is not, and cannot be, an objective or neutral referee.”
“The British government was a one of the combatant forces in the conflict. Its position and Gordon Brown’s stance flows from this reality. So too does the position of some unionist leaders.”