Colm McCallan, a Belfast Catholic, was aged 25 when he died; but he was still a student, though married with a child.
He was studying hard for exams and he left his Ligoniel home in the early hours of July 14, 1986, telling his wife he wanted a breath of air. But he was chased into a laneway by three gunmen of the UVF who shot him three times in the head. A doctor found him, still conscious, where he had crawled 40 yards into an adjacent avenue at 2.30am. He died in hospital.
Martin Duffy was a Belfast fireman of 28, a Catholic, married with three children, who worked also as a part-time taxi driver. He was shot by the UVF when he went to pick up a fare at Chichester Park, off Antrim Road, at about 11 o'clock less than a week later.
He stopped to ask two girls for directions. Moments later they heard five shots and Duffy came past and staggered into the car park of the Chester Park Hotel where two nurses happened to be. They came out to help him, but he died a little over an hour later in hospital. Firemen from as far off as Cork attended his funeral. A fortnight earlier Duffy had saved the life of a man in a fire on the Shankill Road.
John Bingham was a Belfast Protestant, 33 years old, a shopkeeper, married with two children, with a holiday caravan he kept at Millisle, Co Down. He had just returned to his Ballysillan Crescent home from Millisle on September 14, 1986. It was eight weeks after Mr Duffy's death. Two IRA gunmen used an axe to smash their way into the house at half-past one in the morning. They shot Bingham in the legs and then chased him upstairs where they shot him dead. He was a prominent member of the West Belfast UVF.
William Gordon (41), a Protestant member of the UDR, was a school welfare officer with a wife and three children. He was taking two of them, Lesley aged ten and her brother, three years younger, to school from his home at Grove Terrace, Maghera on February 8, 1978. Before he got into the car he looked as usual in the boot and underneath.
But when he drove off, there was an explosion which killed both himself and Lesley, who was sitting in the front beside her father. “She was a delightful child,” said the principal of Culnady primary school, Mrs Margaret Carson. “I doubt if this school will ever forget her.”
On May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes (27) an unmarried IRA activist, was the second hunger striker to die in the Maze prison. He was reputed to have killed more than a dozen people, most of them police and army in the south Co Derry area. The RUC had described him as the most wanted man in Northern Ireland.
Eddie Brophy, who confessed to his involvement in the horrific La Mon Hotel bombing in which 12 died on the evening of February 17, 1977, was saved by the Judge. Mr Justice Kelly ruled his statements inadmissible because he believed they could have been obtained improperly by the police. Mr Brophy was later wounded severely in a loyalist gun attack. But he lived on to die a natural death in 1997. The final twist is that he was a former British soldier.
Brophy's family, presumably, would not qualify for the £12,000 payment proposed by the Consultative Group on the Past, whose report is to be issued tomorrow. But every one of the other families, involved in the incidents I mention, would. More significantly, each would receive precisely the same amount. When we confront the facts, the proposal stands as a coarse, even brutal, adjudication. And what are the facts?
The student, Colm McCallan, is alleged to have been shot by John Bingham.
Francis Hughes, on the run at the time, was sought by the police because they thought he was involved in the murder of William and Lesley Gordon. But families of the victims and families of their murderers — all would receive the belated largesse of the state without distinction. It is a quite shocking proposal, lacking both humanity and morality.
The purpose, of course, is clear: to close the book on the past and open the way to a new beginning. This may appear tidy politically; but, for the innocent victims of terrorist savagery, it is not an option: the past is always with them — and always will be. Their loss is a life sentence, not a passing episode which they can forget.
Accordingly, it cannot be bought out. Would that it could!
I cannot imagine such a settlement being accepted anywhere else, least of all elsewhere within the United Kingdom; and, if that is so, why should it be entertained here?
I think I heard one sceptic remark that, if one's house is burgled, one does not compensate the family of the burglar. Well, not yet; though in the present condition of the public mind, anything is possible.