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Even relatives of Troubles victims were polarised by the proposals

IT has proved so divisive even victims cannot agree.

The Spads Bill has bitterly divided relatives of victims of both those who fell at the hands of the IRA, who broadly support it, and those who fell at the hands of the security forces or loyalists, who generally oppose it.

The scene in the visitors' gallery yesterday said it all. Representatives of each group sat on separate rows and outside they held separate Press conferences. There was no arguing between them, but also little common ground.

"This has alienated and divided people while we need to build for the future and put the needs of victims at the heart of public policy. I think this debate has polarised and Balkanised what was already a fairly toxic debate," said John Loughran, whose uncle was one of six men shot dead in North Belfast's New Lodge area in 1973.

The killers were believed to be a mixture of loyalists, who carried out a drive-by shooting, and soldiers who opened fire afterwards.

"I don't want a British soldier or someone involved in loyalism to lose their employment rights," Mr Loughran said.

"It is not about recrimination but there is an accountability gap, (for) families of state violence, more often than not there was never a proper investigation, never mind a conviction."

Mr Loughran sits on the Victim and Survivors Forum alongside Ann Travers who inspired the Spads Bill after Mary McArdle, one of an IRA gang which killed her sister Mary, was appointed special adviser to Culture Minister Caral ni Chilin.

"I was retraumatised. If Sinn Fein had recognised that and removed Mary McArdle straight away I probably wouldn't be here today," she said yesterday. She sees an agenda to silence victims of paramilitary groups, particularly the IRA, in the interests of peace. Serena Hamilton, whose father was an off-duty UDR part-timer killed by the IRA in 1977, agreed. "If security forces have done wrong there should be an investigation and I wouldn't defend it, but you are talking about thousands of people being deliberately murdered by republican terrorists," she said.

There is a gulf there which may take some time to bridge, but both Mr Loughran and Ms Travers said they would like to try.

Belfast Telegraph