The pain and anger of Troubles victims erupted yesterday at the launch of the report into how Northern Ireland can handle the past.
Protesters stormed the stage in the Europa Hotel’s Grand Ballroom in Belfast, exemplifying the hurt and loss and sense of injustice the report attempts to deal with.
They included Michelle Williamson, who lost her parents in the IRA’s Shankill fish shop bombing and Hazlett Lynch, whose brother Kenneth was one of three RUC officers shot dead by the IRA in June 1977.
They were joined by the head of the Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) group, William Frazer, who kept shouting at officials on the platform: “do you condemn murder?”
Earlier they had formed what one called a ‘guard of dishonour’ outside the hotel, holding up placards which read ‘Sale Here today: Truth and Justice on offer for £12,000’ and ‘The wages of murder is £12,000’, as some guests arrived for the official presentation.
It was a display of raw emotion which encapsulated the difficulties the entire issue of dealing with the legacy of the 30 years of violence presents.
The joint chiefs of the Consultative Group on the Past, Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, were prevented from taking the stage for some 15 minutes as appeals for the protesters to take their seats fell on deaf ears.
The former MLA Cedric Wilson, now a member of Traditional Unionist Voice whose logo featured on many of the placards, went over to where Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was sitting and shouted: “It is an outrage that this man is sitting here. He should be forced to leave.”
There was some applause but one man shouted: “He (Mr Adams) is our representative, we are proud of him, you leave him alone.” And another from the nationalists who had mostly remained seated said: “Youse are cowards. Why do you think your pain is worse than our pain?”
Mr Wilson said he wanted to ask Lord Eames whether Mr Adams was a victim or a perpetrator and said he would not be leaving until he got answer. He was told the former Church of Ireland Primate would not be answering questions. Mr Adams sat impassively and was also approached by Ms Williamson who spoke quietly to him.
The heated outbursts took place only a few feet away from PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde who sat amid repeated appeals for calm and warnings that those who were refusing to take their seats would have to be removed.
One woman called for the many media cameras to be put out, and there was renewed applause.
Mr Lynch, who was among those holding up photographs of their loved ones, said the report was “another cynical attempt to rewrite history and dovetails with the Government's policy in Northern Ireland”.
After an appeal from the platform for police to remove those who were preventing the presentation from taking place, calm was restored.
But TUV leader Jim Allister, who was also present, said later: “Adams was there to gloat on how his IRA killers had been elevated by Eames/Bradley to the same status as their innocent victims. I was there to convey my outrage that Eames and Bradley, and their support cast, had delivered such a victory to terrorism. Lord Eames, in particular, should hang his head in shame.
“The truth is that despite all their platitudes, Eames/Bradley have visited huge pain and renewed grief on the innocent victims by peddling the lie that those who made them victims are also victims.”