The authors of a report on how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland have issued a statement explaining their recommendations and warning against hasty judgements about their proposals.
In particular, they have explained their suggestion that families of all those killed should get £12,000.
Unionists and some victims' groups have criticised the plan as it would include payments to the families of IRA and loyalist groups. Others have wrongly interpreted the payments as ‘compensation’.
The 190-page report, which will be published later today contains more than 30 recommendations.
It has been compiled by the Consultative Group on the Past, an independent group set up to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's Troubles, during which more than 3,000 people died.
Between 1969 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 about 2,000 civilians, 1,000 members of the security forces and 600 paramilitaries died.
The proposals are thought to include a £160m legacy commission which would be led by an international figure.
This commission would take over the work currently carried out by the Police Ombudsman - which investigates complaints against the police and the Historical Enquiries Team - a specialist police unit set up to investigate unsolved killings throughout the Troubles.
In a statement, former primate of the Church of Ireland Lord Eames said: “I understand and accept the anguish of those who have been angered by the suggestion of a recognition payment for families which lost a loved one during the 40 years of violence. Many of those families I know personally. I walked beside them as they buried their husbands, parents, son or daughter who served in the RUC, UDR, RIR or British Army – or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Throughout my Church career I have always condemned violence no matter where it came from. I will always do so. I would never condone violence or justify the actions that led to the grief I witnessed.
“Over the last 18 months the group has listened to many families left broken from 40 years of violence. They came from every sector of our community. Such burdens will remain with them for the rest of their days. How society faces up to this is a vital part of how it deals with the past.
”Our group has listened to the despair of those who ask: what was it all for – what was it really about?
”Let me make it perfectly clear. Our reference to a recognition payment did not come out of thin air. In our consultations, victims, victims’ groups, widows of UDR and RUC members, politicians and individuals pressed us to make a recommendation on recognition of their grief and sorrow. This is not compensation by any means. To think that money can lessen such pain is insulting and wrong. As a leading unionist politician said to us, “there is no difference in a mother’s tears”. Our group sought advice from experts in this field. So our mention of a recognition gesture is a response to what responsible people asked of us.
”We have had to accept the definition of a victim or survivor as that stated in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. The Irish government made one acknowledgement payment to their citizens affected by the violence – surely we should give similar recognition to those who live in the United Kingdom?
”The reaction that has ensued over the last four days reminds us we live in a deeply divided society. Thankfully the bombs and bullets have stopped but to deal with the past will mean each of us searching deep into our souls to find a way to a truly shared and reconciled future. Some have said they simply want justice. Others say they simply want truth. Both are right to ask that and we will address both in our report. However, they have to also accept that many others just want wider society to recognise their suffering.
”But our report is about much more. This is only one of over 30 recommendations.
”Some have voiced concerns that this is all some elaborate plan to whitewash or revise history. Nothing could be further from the truth.
”Others have urged us to draw a line under the past now. This would mean amnesty. The people of Northern Ireland do not want that.
”Others said there was no chance of getting a prosecution. We reject that argument. If the evidence is there then people should be put before the courts and sent to jail.
”The current legal processes are one-sided and unfair. They unfairly place all the investigation on the security forces. This unbalanced approach has to stop.
”Expensive and time-consuming public inquiries are not the way to deal with the past. We will recommend a new way that is fair to all.
“Just as questions of alleged collusion need to be answered so too do questions about horrific atrocities and the accusations of IRA cleansing of Protestants along the border.
”Only when all the questions are put and answered can we finally draw a line under the past.
”So as we launch our recommendations today I would appeal to each and every one of you to take time to read the report and to reflect on its proposals.”