Protesters Disrupt N. Ireland Reconciliation Meeting

Protesters in Northern Ireland disrupted the unveiling of a report dealing with the British province's legacy of three decades of violence. The report issued Wednesday was supposed to be part of the healing and reconciliation process. A Catholic-Protestant commission was putting forward suggestions to help communities on both sides of the divide deal with the past.

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The decades of violence in Northern Ireland have ended, but it's still possible to stoke the anger left over from that troubled time. A new report aimed at reconciling the bloody past of this British province did the opposite yesterday. It brought protesters out into the streets. NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

ROB GIFFORD: The report was written by an independent body called The Consultative Group on the Past, and it contains many suggestions about reconciliation. But even before yesterday's unveiling, focus had all been on just one of them. The suggestion that families of all people killed during what is sometimes euphemistically known as "the troubles" in Northern Ireland, should receive a one-time payment of £12,000, about $17,000. That's regardless of which side they were on, and whether they were innocent victims or members of paramilitary groups. For some family members of victims in the violence, this was too much.

(Soundbite of arguments at protest):

Unidentified Woman: Ladies and gentlemen, please. Sir, sir we're going to have to ask for some people to be removed. We really don't want to have to do it. Where are the police?

GIFFORD: One protester held up a placard that read "The Wages of Murder is £12,000," while another displayed a poster reading "Terrorism Pays, Apparently." More than 3,000 people were killed during the three decades of civil unrest in Northern Ireland before Britain and Ireland brokered the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. The decade since then has seen faltering efforts to bring self-rule to the province, which led the way to a landmark power-sharing deal last year between former bitter opponents, some loyal to London, others wanting a united Ireland. One of the report's authors, Lord Eames, said the offer of money should not be regarded as compensation.

Lord ROBIN EAMES (Author, "The Troubles in Northern Ireland Report"): This is a recognition payment, in a sense, on behalf of the whole of society to say look, at the end of the day, when families are concerned, there is no difference - and I'm quoting directly from a Unionist politician, who spoke to us - there's no difference in a mother's tears.

GIFFORD: The authors of the report were advised by legal experts who had also advised the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Other recommendations in the report concerned the investigation of killings that were never solved and the provision of money for projects promoting reconciliation. But Willie Fraser of the group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives said the current plans for the financial handout were unacceptable, and that families of paramilitaries killed in Northern Ireland must at least express some remorse for what their relatives did.

Mr. WILLIE FRASER (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives Group): We believe that by accepting this money, we legitimize the use of violence. We can't do that. Now, one of the suggestions we've got here was that, if the family of perpetrators wanted to approach a commission and say that they didn't believe what their son did, or their father, or whatever, that that would entitle them to some type of redress.

GIFFORD: The British government must now decide which of the proposals to adopt and which not to. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was careful in Parliament yesterday not to say what he plans to do, but he did express his deepest sympathy for the families of innocent victims in Northern Ireland. Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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