Lord Eames and Denis Bradley confronted some of their tormentors in the Commons Northern Ireland committee this afternoon over recognition payments. True to form, a row broke out as soon a opening statements had been made.Your credibility is so badly damaged that it renders all the other parts of your report difficult said Iris Robinson. “Contaminated” David Simpson called it and ratcheted up the temperature by recalling that Lord Eames had buried four of his relatives: I was disappointed to see that your fingerprints were all over it ,” he said and went on to accuse Denis Bradley of having an (unspecified but clearly sinister ) agenda. At this he got to his feet for some reason but the chairman the magniloquent Sir Patrick Cormack told him sharply to sit down, reminding him he was there to ask questions not to make statements questioning the co-chairs integrity. Adds later.. Mark Devenport who was present says it was the SDLP’s Alistair McDonnell who got up, not David Simpson. I was watching on the tiny web screen. But certainly Mr Simpson was rapped for impugning integrity.
The case for the defence was clear and was put no less than six times, I made it. No hierarchy of victims was in the law Parliament itself has made in the Victims Order 2006 where no distinction is made between sides. Asked repeatedly to admit in their hearts that recognition payments had been a mistake Robin Eames admitted ruefully you could drive a coach and horses through the figure. It had come in a little noticed recommendation for payments in the Republic. But on no hierarchy of victims, there was no resiling .
No one has said murderers should get an award, said Bradley wearily. There is not a conflict in the world that has not grasped this nettle. It will not go away. A mothers tears had come from several prominent unionists. An Omagh relative had recoiled at first and then had come to agree. Three out of the four Victims Commissioners agreed also.
Denis Bradleys eloquence grew as his patience thinned. On the row over the payments; I think our politicians have dealt with this obnoxiously. They are using the payments issue to continue the fight.
In a short session on the legacy commission, he claimed it would do it better, faster and without 40 lawyers in the room. The hard politics of this is that the community is ready to carry on the fight in the courts for the next forty years. There were people raring to get into the courts or public inquiries at a cost of £1 billion pounds”. The legacy commission needed only the lower burdens of proof that would satisfy most relatives. In any case, there is no full justice and no full truth. What we are trying to do is to provide adequate answers for those most intimately involved. It is up to the British government to take ownership of the issue if our politicians arent capable of it.
But the British government showed no signs of doing anything of the sort. The most shameful intervention of the day came outside the committee when the secretary of state Shaun Woodward used the vehicle of the Nolan show to reject recognition payments without having the decency to inform the authors his predecessor had commissioned . An ill-mannered and silly piece of ingratiation that will do him no good in the long run. Robin Eames declined to rise to Kate Hooeys bait and criticise the minister.
Perhaps he thought, we have political enemies enough.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London