Can Northern Ireland ever agree on how to address the Troubles?
Political parties differ on the best way to deal with the scars of decades of violence. Adrian Rutherford looks at the contrasting viewpoints
The political stalemate over how Northern Ireland comes to terms with its troubled and bloody past must be broken, it was claimed last night.
The call was made as it emerged that controversial proposals on how to deal with the past had been largely rejected by people in a consultation exercise.
The rejections are revealed in responses to a consultation on proposals put forward by the Consultative Group on the Past, headed by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, published by the NIO yesterday.
Among the report’s 31 recommendations was a £12,000 payment to families of those killed in the Troubles — including relatives of dead paramilitaries.
Of the 174 people who responded to the report, most rejected it without comment.
The consultation also received 72 responses from organisations, political parties, academics and medical experts.
Alliance Party justice spokesperson Stephen Farry said there was increasing frustration at the political stalemate around how we deal with the past.
“There remain strong competing demands for truth and justice in this society,” he said. “These cannot simply be swept under the carpet.”
He called upon Secretary of State Owen Paterson to lead cross-party talks to find some agreement on how to address the past.
“There is both a responsibility and an opportunity for the Secretary of State to provide leadership on this matter,” he added.
“Owen Paterson should consider convening talks between the parties and driving the process to find agreement on what can happen.”
Victims campaigner Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by the UVF, said there needs to be a new approach to dealing with the past.
“A group should be set up made up of victims and ask the victims what is the way forward for us,” he said. “Until victims are represented on these groups, as far as I'm concerned, it's a complete waste of time and money.”
The DUP’s victims spokesman Jeffrey Donaldson said too many of Eames-Bradley’s recommendations had been unacceptable.
“I am not surprised by the very negative public response,” he said. “There are key elements of the report that are deeply flawed, particularly the proposal that some form of recognition payment should be made to those who lost relatives during the Troubles — but critically that this should include the families of terrorists.
“We also reject the notion of some kind of all-embracing commission which, on the basis of past evidence, would simply result in a rewriting of a history of the Troubles with the Army and police in the dock and the terrorists getting away in the smoke.
“That is also unacceptable.
“What we want is families getting the truth and justice from those who perpetrated these evil deeds.
“The Eames-Bradley Report was not the best way of achieving this.”
Sinn Fein victims spokesman Francie Molloy said there was concern that the lack of consensus would be used as an excuse to stall the whole issue of truth and reconciliation.
“The reality is that you will not get a consensus on dealing with the past amongst political parties, primarily because the future is still contested,” he said.
Mr Molloy said an independent, international truth recovery mechanism which examines the causes and consequences of the Troubles was what was needed now.
Mr Paterson said he hoped that the publication of a summary of responses “demonstrates the transparent and measured approach I intend to take”.
“I am committed to listening to the views of people from across the community in Northern Ireland on the role I can play on this important issue,” he said.
‘I want them to tell a court why they took away my son’
By Claire McNeilly
Brian Service, a 35-year-old Catholic from north Belfast, was shot dead by breakaway terrorist group the Red Hand Defenders in October 1998. The random killing devastated his mother Anne, now 71, who had previously lost another close family member to the Troubles.
“It was about 7am when I heard the knock. I assumed it would be Brian, who lived nearby, wanting to come in for some heat. His flat was always freezing.
“I went downstairs and saw two people in plain clothes. I assumed they were police. It’s never good news when they come to your door.
“They asked me if I had a son called Brian. I immediately thought there’d been an accident, murder never crossed my mind.
“Brian had gone to his older brother David’s house. They had a couple of beers and watched a bit of sport before Brian decided to go home around midnight.
“David told him to take a taxi but he shrugged the idea off, saying there was peace now. Ten minutes later he was dead.
“When I finally realised what the police were there for, I couldn’t take it in. How could he have been killed? Who could have killed him?
“I remember running up the stairs to my husband and screaming ‘Brian’s dead’, over and over again. It’s something you live in fear of all your life, yet never think it will happen to you.
“Afterwards we walked around the house like zombies. We were like strangers, we were incapable of talking about it.
“Brian’s younger brother Martin fell to pieces. I think we all did. I was 59 when Brian was killed.
“All my life, for some reason, I’d dreaded turning 60... and I spent my 60th birthday at Brian’s grave.
“It sounds strange but, subconsciously, maybe I knew something bad was going to happen all along.
“No-one was ever charged with Brian’s murder, but I felt numb towards those who pulled the trigger that night. That’s what they were taught to do.
“It’s those who made them take the gun who are really responsible — the men who wear suits and hold the power. I want them to tell a court why they took away my boy. I blame our politicians for what Northern Ireland was like at that time, but I don’t forgive the people who murdered my son. He had a right to live.
“We do need reconciliation if we are going to stop other families going through what any of the victims of the Troubles have been through, and I know, I’ve experienced it twice. In 1971 I was staying at my sister’s house when a loyalist gunman stormed in and shot her husband dead. He also tried to murder her, but the bullet missed its target.
“I didn’t know what that kind of pain felt like until it came calling that day. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d have to go through it all again.”
‘I saw my detached leg fly away in front of my eyes’
By Claire McNeilly
Alex Bunting was 37 when an IRA car bomb detonated in his taxi. He lost his left leg and now lives in fear of losing his other one.
The Protestant, now 55, was living in north Belfast at the time along with wife Linda and their two children, Alex and Colin.
“The first thing I remember seeing was my leg, which had detached from my body, flying past me. I remember being flung from the car like a cannonball and ending up on the other side of the street. I heard women scream, I was awake the whole time.
“It was October 21, 1991. When I got into my car at 6am that morning it wouldn’t start, which I thought was strange. Half an hour later I tried again and it eventually started. My first job was taking a woman into the city centre. She sat in the front. I took a short cut through Sandy Row, then there was an almighty flash. I don’t know why, but I hit the door and pushed the lady down. That probably saved us, otherwise we would have been blown through the roof.
“At the time I felt nothing. My left leg blew off me in two parts and the lower part of my right and part of the thigh was blown off. Everything seemed to be in slow motion.
“A doctor was in the car behind, and then an Army foot patrol arrived. The soldiers had field dressings which the doctor used. The ambulance arrived quickly and I was in the City Hospital operating theatre within 11 minutes.
“They put 37 pints of blood through me. Initially they couldn’t stop the arteries bleeding. I spent three months in intensive care. For 10 weeks I was on a life support machine.
“Coins worth £16.30, in different denominations, had been lodged in my body. They gave me it as I was leaving hospital; some compensation, eh?
“I learned to walk again with an artificial leg. My wife left her job to become my full-time carer.
“My youngest son suffers from post-traumatic stress. He saw my car shortly after it was blown up. He was on his way to school when the bus drove past. I still have flashbacks and suffer from phantom pains in my leg. Sometimes my stump jumps and I have to hold it down. The circulation in my right leg isn’t great, they might have to remove it too. I wouldn’t want to know the names of the people behind this. They were probably some young guys sent out to do the job — which they later said was a case of mistaken identity.
“Knowing who they were would probably bring back a lot of feelings, and who wants that?
“‘Forgiveness’ is a bit strong, but I don’t think those who did this to me are worth thinking about. A public apology wouldn’t make any difference. I would accept it, but I’m a realist and I don’t think it will ever come to that.
“We need reconciliation but I can never see paramilitaries admitting blame. As for prosecuting those behind the atrocities, the truth is I don’t believe that will ever happen.”