Payment play for reconciliation sparks anger in Northern Ireland
A long-awaited reconciliation plan for Northern Ireland provoked a wave of anger across the province - and in the House of Commons in London - with a provision for payments of about $16,800 to families of all of the 3,700 people killed during 30 years of sectarian violence, including paramilitaries killed by their own bombs.
A news conference accompanying the release of the plan in Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital, became the stage for an eruption of the anger and grief still burning among those who lost relatives in the sectarian violence. The struggle cast Protestant paramilitaries loyal to Britain against armed groups with roots in the Roman Catholic minority, including the Irish Republican Army, that campaigned for a united Ireland.
As the authors of the plan prepared to speak at a crowded Belfast hotel on Wednesday, Protestant hard-liners jumped up to shout insults and trade recriminations with others in the audience with links to the IRA. Those involved in the protests included men and women who lost relatives in the violence, or were wounded in the IRA attacks that accounted for more than 60 percent of the deaths in the strife.
Appointed by the British government to head a panel called the Consultative Group on the Past, the two men spent 18 months preparing their 190-page report on steps to help Northern Ireland move toward a lasting peace. The report contained more than 30 proposals, including the establishment of a body to be known as the Legacy Commission, similar in some ways to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation panel after the collapse of apartheid, which would seek to bind the wounds of the past by investigating unresolved killings.
The new commission would take over existing efforts to investigate the hundreds of ambushes, assassinations and bombings whose perpetrators were never caught, encouraging IRA militants and Protestant paramilitaries to come clean about their pasts. It would also look into some of the killings by the British Army and the province's Protestant-dominated police force, and encourage meetings behind closed doors at which perpetrators and victims could seek reconciliation.
The idea of payments to the families of those who died while carrying out attacks led to bitter outbursts in the British House of Commons during the prime minister's weekly question time. Nigel Dodds, who represents the party led by Robinson, asked Prime Minister Gordon Brown to "acknowledge the deep hurt and offense that has been caused by the obnoxious proposal," which he said "effectively does away with the distinction between murderers and those who they went out to murder and kill."
Brown hinted that the government might not endorse the plan, at least as far as perpetrators of violence are concerned. "I know that you speak for the whole community in Northern Ireland when you say we must respect the fact that innocent people lost their lives and that should be something that is never forgotten," he
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