Haydn West/AP
Lord David Trimble

Compensation Plan for Northern Ireland Victims Creates Controversy

January 26, 2009 04:17 PM
by Denis Cummings
A proposal to give £12,000 to the families of every victim of Northern Ireland’s Troubles has drawn criticism for treating civilians and paramilitary members equally.

£12,000 for Each Victim’s Family

The Consultative Group on the Past, an independent group created by the British Northern Secretary to “consult across the community on the best way to deal with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland,” will release a report Wednesday recommending that the families of all 3,700 victims of the Troubles—including the members of paramilitary groups and security forces—be given £12,000 (about $16,600).

“It means that the next of kin of Shankill bomber Thomas Begley will receive £12,000, just as each of the families of the nine Protestants he killed will receive the same figure,” writes Irish Times Northern editor Gerry Moriarty. “It means that the family of Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright will receive £12,000, just as the families of the many Catholics he killed will receive £12,000.”

The proposal, which became public last week, has sparked an angry response from many politicians and from the families of civilian victims, who are outraged that the deaths of innocent civilians are being treated the same as the deaths of belligerents.

Lord David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, said, “What the victims of the Troubles want is, first of all, to be remembered and secondly they want to feel that what they suffered was not in vain—that their sacrifice helped to build a better, safer, more democratic future for the people of Northern Ireland. To come forward first with money is offensive.”

The consultative group, headed by former Church of Ireland primate Lord Robin Eames and former priest and Policing Board deputy Denis Bradley, will also recommend the creation of the Legacy Commission to investigate unsolved killings and an end of public inquiries into controversial killings. In addition, it suggests funding anti-sectarianism projects and assistance for those traumatized by the Troubles.

The £300 million proposal must be accepted by the governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland for it to be applied. “The likelihood of the proposal being accepted is extremely slim,” writes the Irish Independent’s Maurice Hayes. “Whatever about the British and Irish governments—who are expected to share the cost—there is absolutely no hope of agreement in the Assembly, and every possibility of a bitter and divisive public debate.”

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Opinion & Analysis: Debating the proposal

An editorial in The Times of London argues that any compensation plan doesn’t address the suffering caused by the Troubles. “Does £12,000 cover the cost of grief and the suffering of the lives of survivors?” it asks. “Many will regard it as an insult. What they want, if anything, is genuine remorse and assurance that this will never happen again.”

Many have criticized the proposal for re-opening old wounds. “It will only create further division between the survivors and it runs the danger of tainting the whole Consultative Group on the Past in the way that the early release of terrorist prisoners led to some rejecting the Good Friday Agreement,” writes the Belfast Telegraph.

The Telegraph continues that people mustn’t overlook the other recommendations of the report, such as the creation of the Legacy Commission. “These processes, unlike the payment recommendation, may help to heal old wounds," it writes.

The Times of London’s Liam Clarke defends the proposal, arguing that treating all victims equally will lead to greater openness and aid the Legacy Commission in its goal to discover the truths of past crimes. He further contends that any reconciliation effort must be willing to openly address the details of the Troubles.

“A system of private conversations after which information is passed on only where it is affirming and comforting would be a travesty of truth recovery,” he writes. “Such a sanitised, fairy-tale version of reality would, in the long term, perpetuate prejudice and division.”

Historical Context: The Troubles

Related Topic: The Bloody Sunday inquiry


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