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Alex Kane: There will probably never be a meeting of minds on pension proposal for victims

Alex Kane

For so long as what is described as the 'peace process' here remains conflict stalemate rather than conflict resolution, then for so long will it be impossible to agree upon a definition of victim which is acceptable to everyone.

That's why some people who would be eligible for the pension that Victim's Commissioner Judith Thompson has recommended to the government, will refuse to take it; even when taking it could make a significant difference to their lifestyle.

UDR member Grant Weir was left brain-damaged by a bomb detonated by the IRA on July 17, 1979 as his patrol drove past a bus stop near Rosslea. He was 22 and is now cared for by his family, including his sisters Debbie and Michelle.

Debbie acknowledges that a pension would "make a massive difference. Financially it would definitely allow us to help out with Grant a great deal. However, if that also meant that potentially the...people responsible for blowing up Grant...would have an entitlement to that same pension...it's beyond belief. As a family, we would never accept a payment if it meant that the people who went out to destroy lives, destroy families, were to be put into the same category as Grant, whose life they have destroyed."

The opinion of the Weir family will be shared by many other families. The fact that the pension would make a difference, would allow them to provide a higher level of care and quality of life, isn't enough, though. Accepting the pension would force - and there really is no other word for it - them to accept that there was an equivalence between security force members and paramilitary terrorists, be they loyalist or republican. How could they accept that? How could they ever accept it, even if accepting it would be to their financial benefit? And those same concerns will be echoed within the families of those injured by security forces or loyalist paramilitaries.

If we had a situation in which the Good Friday Agreement had ushered in genuine, demonstrable reconciliation and political cooperation it might have made the families take a different approach. Had there been some sort of truth commission it might have made a difference. Had there been a collective understanding on legacy issues it might have made a difference. If there was a sense of us having moved beyond our past and into a new era it might have made a difference. If the regular commemorations and eulogies had disappeared it might have made a difference.

But in the absence of all of that no-one should be surprised that many families and individual victims balk at the possibility of receiving a pension that will also be available to those they believe acted unlawfully. But in writing that I'm aware that the response of others will be a mixture of: "they were part of a British force of occupation"; "where's the justice for all the victims of police and army brutality"; "the IRA was fighting for freedom from oppression"; "the police and army were doing their best to safeguard everyone"; "if the IRA hadn't waged a campaign there would have been no need for the army and UDR"; and so on and so on.

There can probably never be a meeting of minds on this issue. Paramilitaries will always take the line that they were protecting or defending their community, while the security forces will say that their job was to protect everyone and prevent a downwards spiral into anarchy or civil war. In the absence of a collectively agreed narrative both sides will row in behind the version of history that fits their circumstances and experiences and that version will, in turn, be promoted by the lead parties of both communities.

In the continuing absence of reconciliation and resolution - and I'm not expecting either of those outcomes anytime soon - I don't know how we avoid a situation in which every new recommendation or proposition isn't, within minutes of being put into the public domain, dragged down into the same old bear pit of generational bitterness and resentment.

These latest recommendations on pensions may, in fact, get through the House of Commons; but don't expect them to make any significant difference to politics or reconciliation.

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