There’s no going back
Blueprint for tackling our violent history
A road map for tackling the legacy of Northern Ireland’s 30 years of violence and moving towards a more peaceful future was unveiled today.
The comprehensive blueprint of the Consultative Group on the Past – chaired by ex-Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames and former Policing Board vice chairman Denis Bradley – attempted to demonstrate how the past can be dealt with but appealed for people not to rush to judgment.
As the political controversy over proposed payments to the families of victims gathered momentum, co-author Lord Eames urged people to take weeks and months to reflect and said: “This is too important an issue for instant responses.”
The Group warned, however, that to continue the already highly-politicised debate on defining victims and the hierarchy of victims is “both fruitless and self-defeating”.
The true hierarchy it said was the level of loss and suffering experienced – the difference between having a family member killed or severely injured against a car destroyed or a house damaged.
But they also warned some victims groups are contributing to divisions and some “are little more than mini political parties”.
On the single most controversial proposal – the one-off £12,000 recognition payment – the report suggests the only alternative would have been to recommend a further review of compensation.
But the Group said it was painfully aware no amount of recompense “will ever make things right” so decided against a review and believed “all families of those who died should receive recognition of their suffering regardless of past compensation payments.”
They then recommend the payments, funded by the British Government, are given to the nearest relative of those who died as a result of the confict from January 1966.
The nearest relative extends from spouses, through children and siblings to grandparents, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces and would be evenly divided between eligible applicants.
The Group said to allow the money to be made quickly, an existing organisation – which it does not name – should process the ex-gratia payments which would be tax free and not affect social security benefits or pensions.
Those eligible would include the closest relatives of people killed as a direct result of either paramilitary group or security force action, or accidental death from the same sources but the report says the list “is not exhaustive” and the administrator of the scheme “should be able to show flexibility in deciding on payments”.
The 190-page report said concerns about compensation related to the amounts paid to families in the 1970s and 1980s and there was almost unani
mous agreement in the consultations that many payments were inadequate “not least because compensation was primarily based on loss of earnings and did not take into account the loss felt by the family”.
The Group recommends a £160m Legacy Commission, headed by an international figure, which would take over the work of the Historical Enquiries Team and conduct “a process of information recovery” which would often be in private.
At the end of its five-year mandate, a Reconciliation Forum would take the lead in iniatiating a cermony remem
bering the past and the Commission would challenge political parties and remnant paramilitary groups to sign a declaration they will never again kill or injure others.
It would also, for example, engage with the Christian churches which the report said had “failed to make a sustained united impact during the conflict” to encourage them to consider and re-think their contribution to a non-sectarian future.
The Group fully supports an annual day of reflection, possibly June 21, when the First Ministers would together give an address but also said a shared memorial cannot be agreed “at this time”.
The report concluded some serious questions remain on the issue of collusion, comments there were many more people recruited as informers than was imagined at the time and suggests those with conflict-related convictions should be given equal access to jobs and services.
“Any society moving forward from conflict has no choice but to address the separations that exist between its people,” the report said.“Responsibility for the future lies not only with those who were directly involved in the conflict, but with every sector of society.”
Secretary of State Shaun Woodward was due to be in Dublin this morning for a pre-arranged meeting on a wide-range of issues, including the Eames/Bradley report, with the Republic’s foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin. It was expected to be the first chance for both governments to respond formally to the report.
Mr Woodward will also release a written statement to parliament on the controversial recommendations, although the Government will not make any substantive report for some months.
It is understood, however, that the London government is keen to reinforce its view that Northern Ireland’s future success is not just dependent on political stability but on dealing with the legacy of its past and the reaching of a genuine consensus.