Saturday, 24 January 2009

Compensating factors

There has been strong criticism from both Unionists and victims' groups of the plans proposed by a group chaired by the former Church of Ireland primate Robin Eames and the vice-chair of the Northern Ireland policing board Denis Bradley to pay the families of all those killed in the Troubles £12,000, regardless of circumstances.

Before considering the cash proposal, it is worth saying that the other main proposals from the Commission, ignored by the BBC, are good ideas and worthy of action. These include:

- A legacy commission chaired by international commissioner and two other members to oversee how legacy of the Troubles is comprehensively addressed.
- An information recovery unit which will privately collate and report on information from paramilitaries and British security forces to help establish how and why victims were killed in conflict.
- A new investigative body to replace Historical Enquiries Team to investigate some 3,000 killings of the Troubles.
- £100 million for projects to tackle sectarianism.
- An end to future public inquiries into controversial killings.
- Practical assistance for people who have suffered or were traumatised by the Troubles.

Coming to terms with the past is an important part of facing the future. And the 3700 people who died in the Troubles should certainly not be forgotten. But these other worthy ideas could be lost in a needless controversy over a very silly and offensive proposal that would see the family of the Shankill Butchers and the IRA death squads rewarded for the terror carried out by members of their families. At the same time, as David Trimble rightly said on Today, it is offensive to imagine that £12,000 will do much for the families of the innocent victims. There is already a criminal injuries compensation scheme that does not pay perpetrators of crime.

Of course, there is an awful lot that people have had to accept in order to create a climate where Sinn Fein and the DUP can share power, and there are those in government in Northern Ireland with blood on their hands as a result. There are also many who have been released from gaol despite having committed the most heinous crimes. That has been a tough but necessary condition for peace.

Equally, several of the proposals here could help to ensure that their victims are not forgotten and the reasons for their deaths are properly accounted for. And with the endless Bloody Sunday inquiry, they are right to propose an end to enquiries into controversial killings.

Gordon Brown should accept these other proposals while rejecting the compensation proposal. And he should not have to spend too much time thinking about it.

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