The recommendation that the family of every victim of The Troubles receive about $15,000 in compensation has sparked a huge outcry in Northern Ireland. The reconciliation commission led by Archbishop Robin Eames and well-known peace broker Denis Bradley will make the recommendation this week, as one of several measures to try and draw a line under The Troubles for once and for all. Their recommendation is a brave one and has sparked the predictable outrage, especially on the Unionist side, where leaders have pointed out that making the families of paramilitary members killed during The Troubles equivalent to the families of innocent victims is a deeply upsetting move. One can empathize with that point of view, but nonetheless, the Eames/Bradley recommendation should be carried out. There is no other way forward for Northern Ireland. The peace process was a coming together of both sides, from the extremes to the center to the common ground that they could all share and live with. It is senseless to begin dividing up that center again. It took almost a decade and a half to arrive at the point where the shooting stopped and the slow process of reconciliation began. What has been achieved so far has been remarkable, but the center must hold as we move forward. There were many reasons why young men and women took up arms during The Troubles on all sides, but it would be impossible to plumb the individual motives of each and every one of them at this stage. The pain is equally shared between Nationalist families who had relatives die at the hands of Loyalist militants, or Unionist families who had members killed by the IRA. Many of the paramilitaries killed were young people caught up in a cataclysmic event where death and suffering was exploding on all sides. It fair to say that many in their communities consider them victims as much as anyone who died in The Troubles. One can imagine that Eames and Bradley had an impossible task trying to deal with the issue for the families of dead paramilitaries and how they should be treated. They realized, correctly, it would be the worst of all verdicts to exclude them entirely. This would spark a new wave of recrimination and hard feelings that would make it more difficult to move forward. Their solution is not a perfect one by any means, but it is the only one that will show that a completely balanced approach is the only way forward - even when that approach causes grief and heartache to many. It is also a surer way to move forward than the endless investigations, such as the Bloody Sunday inquiry in Derry, initially tagged at $10 million by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and now approaching the $200 million mark. It has turned out to be a wonderful jamboree for lawyers on all sides, but not for the citizens who wanted the truth finally told. Ten years later the verdict has still not been handed down. Both Eames and Bradley have shown rare courage in formulating a proposal such as this, which they must have known would cause huge ructions once it was made public. However, both men must stick by their decisions now no matter how white-hot the resistance becomes. Reconciliation was never going to be an easy act to accomplish, but it is brave proposals like this which will ensure that the pain can be borne equally on both sides.
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