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Angry clashes delay Troubles report

Michelle Willianson, who lost her mother and father in the Shankill Bomb, 1993, confronts Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Michelle Willianson, who lost her mother and father in the Shankill Bomb, 1993, confronts Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Michelle Williamson, whose mother and father were killed in the Shankill Bomb, 1993, and Daniel Bradley, brother of an IRA man killed in 1972
Michelle Willianson, whose mother and father were killed in the Shankill Bomb, 1993, and Willie Frazer (left), whose father was shot dead by IRA, confront Daniel Bradley, brother an IRA man killed 1972
Hazlett Lynch holding a photograph of his murdered brother, Kenneth Lynch (murdered by IRA), and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Cedric Wilson and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Michelle Willianson, who lost her mother and father in the Shankill Bomb, 1993, and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Willie Frazer (left), whose father was shot dead by IRA
Michelle Willianson and Daniel Bradley
Michelle Willianson, whose mother and father were killed in the Shankill Bomb, 1993, and Daniel Bradley, brother an IRA man killed 1972

Victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles were involved in angry clashes in Belfast today before the launch of a report on dealing with three decades of violence.

Bereaved relatives stood head-to-head pointing fingers at one another, trading accusations over the deaths of their loved ones.

The heated exchanges took place within feet of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, who was among dignitaries and hundreds of relatives gathered for the launch of the report in the city's Europa Hotel.

Read the full report here [pdf 640 KB]

There were appeals for calm after protesters, including hard-line Unionist MEP Jim Allister, held placards condemning the authors of the report on dealing with the Troubles for recommending a £12,000 payment to the families of all victims, including dead paramilitaries.

There were appeals for calm before the arrival of the document's authors, Lord Eames and Dennis Bradley.

Also in the audience was former Metropolitan chief John Stevens, who led inquiries into the allegations of collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

Relatives whose loved ones were killed by republicans shouted accusations as the families of Catholics shot dead by security forces retaliated with stories of their own loss.

At one stage the situation in the Europa Hotel threatened to turn really ugly as people clashed with each other, jabbing fingers and trading insults.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who was sitting in the hall, was among those targeted by the protesters.

One screamed: "This is the man who was in charge of the IRA on the day of Bloody Friday."

Others hit back and shouted: "You should be arrested. Leave him alone. Why don't you get out?"

Organisers of the press launch threatened to have some of the protesters removed before proceedings eventually got under way.

The start of the event was delayed by around 15 minutes amid efforts to restore order.

Mr Adams sat impassively as protesters stood within feet of him hurling allegations and insults.

Former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly Cedric Wilson was one of the most vocal of the demonstrators and sat down only after being threatened with arrest.

Mr Allister, leader of hard-line unionist party the Traditional Unionist Voice, and well-known victims' campaigner Willie Frazer were also among a group of people who interrupted the start of proceedings by holding aloft placards denouncing the group's proposals.

Relatives of Catholic and Protestant victims directed abuse at each other across the packed grand ballroom of the hotel before calm was finally restored.

The event got under way with an introduction from South African mediator Brian Currin, who was involved in the truce recovery process in that country and advised the consultative group during their work.

"The peace process, as we well know, has a long, long journey to go," he said, admitting that dealing with the legacy of the past would be one of the most difficult issues to overcome before Northern Ireland could secure a shared future.

One of the protesters was the brother of an RUC officer shot dead with two colleagues by the IRA in June 1977.

Hazlett Lynch, from Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, who heads a victims' support group, said he was disgusted by the report.

Holding up a photograph of his younger brother Kenneth, 22, he said: "It is another cynical attempt to rewrite history.

"This report dovetails with the Government's policy in Northern Ireland.

"It's a disgrace."

Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said: "The very essence of the peace process has been that there is no issue that the people of Northern Ireland will not bravely deal with when the time is right.

"Northern Ireland has constantly demonstrated how it is possible to resolve issues which may seem impossible.

"The report by the Consultative Group on the Past puts these complex issues firmly into the public arena and encourages all of us to seek ways to find a consensus on how to deal with the past.

"The report makes a number of recommendations which we need to give very detailed and careful consideration.

"These are important issues and we all need to reflect carefully on the proposals but we must never forget the thousands of families who have lost loved ones during the many years when violence cast a dark shadow over Northern Ireland."

He said each tragedy was an intensely personal one and could scar families for generations.

"While we must never forget the past, we all want to find a way to help the people of Northern Ireland continue to build a better future for everyone."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Patterson welcomed the report.

"I look forward to reading it in detail but I could not support the particular proposal to reward all victims indiscriminately," he said.

"Those people who carried out vicious acts of violence against innocent civilians and members of the legally established security forces cannot be put on the same level as their victims - any attempt to do so would be repugnant."

In the Commons, Mr Brown acknowledged that the proposal to include the families of dead terrorists in the payments was controversial.

Challenged by Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds at Prime Minister's Questions, he said the Government would consider the report with "great care" before making its response.

"I understand why one of the recommendations has provoked such controversy in Northern Ireland," he said.

"I will never forget the innocent victims in Northern Ireland. I know that he speaks for the whole community in Northern Ireland when he says that we must respect the fact that innocent people lost their lives and that should be something that is never forgotten."

Sir Hugh said he would welcome a move to transfer work on historical murder cases away from his force to a new Review and Investigation Unit - as long as it provided the same service.

"We are very proud of what we have achieved in the form of bringing some form of greater understanding and resolution to families who knew very little of what happened during the murder investigations," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One of the present Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

"Providing the quality of the service is not diminished, I would support a proposal just as that.

"We need to break free of the past and what I do think is a good idea is that the issues that need to be addressed, however complicated and however difficult, are taken away from modern policing so I can continue and look forward and deliver an even safer Northern Ireland than it presently is.

"My current pressures - bearing in mind my budget, bearing in mind the current dissident republican threat which is extremely high - that's what I have to focus on.

"If someone can take the pressure off me and deliver an equal service, then I am all in support of it."

There had been 14 "determined" efforts to kill his officers in as many months, he noted.

The question of payments was "very much a matter for the commission", he said, but he backed the right of officers to express concerns.

"I fully understand that some of my officers are deeply concerned and have a right to express that concern and I think the Commission would support that right," he said.

Read the full report here [pdf 640 KB]

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