Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Placating victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles key to progress

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Omagh bombing
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Omagh bombing

How do we adequately meet the needs of victims and the bereaved of the Troubles? That is a question which has bedevilled politics here since the ending of violence and the latest report from the Commission for Victims and Survivors highlights the problems as much as it attempts to offer solutions. Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Omagh bombing, hits the nail on the head when he says that victims are a diverse group with differing desires.

For some an apology will suffice, for others compensation is required, while others still hanker after truth and justice.

As she prepares to leave her post, Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone attempts to cover these bases and there is no doubt that the recommendations are well-intentioned and bring the issues into sharp focus. But it is also clear that many questions still remain to be answered.

The primary one concerns the definition of a victim. That is something it is almost impossible to find a consensus on.

So how then would two of the proposals in the report work? Who would be eligible to receive a letter of apology for the hurt caused to a person or family circle?

Even the idea of an apology seems a little light in impact. More controversial is the suggestion of a pension or financial reparation for victims. That recalls the furore over the Eames-Bradley proposal for a £12,000 payment to the families of all people killed in the Troubles. Without a definition of who would be eligible such a suggestion is a non-starter.

Whatever our politicians may wish, the lead must come from them. A starting point may be to dust down the Eames-Bradley recommendations and see what can be incorporated from them into the thoughts of the Victims Commissioner.

The inter-party discussions following the Haass talks also need to be given fresh impetus – unlikely until after the elections – and a resolute effort made to address this legacy of the Troubles.

It is an issue which won't go away and must be tackled sooner rather than later.

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