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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 16:36 GMT
NI commission 'could heal wounds'
Professor Desmond Rea said there was a deep sense of hurt
Professor Desmond Rea said there was a deep sense of hurt
A commission should be set up to deal with Northern Ireland's violent past, the chairman of the Policing Board has said.

Professor Desmond Rea also suggested an amnesty for those involved in more than 30 years of violence, as part of a move to "reconcile the losses of the past and embrace the future".

He said it would be more constructive than having further public inquiries such as the one into the events of Bloody Sunday.

Professor Rea called on the British and Irish governments to establish a commission which would deliberate on the past, consult with the public, and make proposals on a constructive way forward.

He said: "There are people on both sides who have lost lives.

The argument that is now being made publicly is that the past can't be dealt with in some piecemeal fashion
Brian Rowan
BBC NI security editor
"There are people who have been injured, and there is a deep sense of hurt.

"Therefore a commission is the proper way to take into account that hurt, but also to seek to find a way forward that is a more productive way forward than the road that we appear to be embarking."

Professor Rea, who said he was speaking personally but had the support of his deputy Denis Bradley, said he did not know if the governments would back the idea.

BBC Northern Ireland security editor Brian Rowan said: "What is being suggested by Professor Desmond Rea will feed into a wider debate.

"There are no easy answers but the argument that is now being made publicly is that the past can't be dealt with in some piecemeal fashion... there has to be a more structured approach."

Professor Rea also called on the British Government to publish reports into four controversial murders in the province, where public inquiries have been recommended.

He suggested those inquiries should not go ahead, but the issues surrounding them should be dealt with by the commission.

'Justice for victims'

Last June, Chief Constable Hugh Orde suggested that a type of truth and reconciliation process may be needed to bring closure to the past.

At that time, more than 1,800 killings, half of those carried out during 30 years of the Troubles in the province, remained unsolved.

Mr Orde said the perpetrators of hundreds of unsolved murders were unlikely to be brought to justice.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aidan died in the Omagh bombing, said he believed such a commission would be of no benefit to victims.

"I know the people that I am involved with would gain very little from going into the room with the perpetrators and listening to their reasons for their actions," said Mr Gallagher, who is chairman of the Omagh Victims Group.

He said he believed they would get "very little" out of such a meeting while the perpetrators would feel they had got "absolution for what they have done".

Beth McGrath, who lost her father and sister in the Shankill bomb, said she doubted if a commission would actually help victims.

"I would be concerned for the victim's families who are then left with this information and are supposed to feel better," she said.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said his party wanted to see the truth "and the development of a victim-based process to achieve this".

Eileen Bell of the Alliance Party said the party was interested in discussing Professor Rea's proposal for a commission, but was opposed to any amnesty for criminals.

She said it was incumbent on all parties to devise structures "that can give some, even limited, sense of redress and justice to victims who feel neglected".

BBC NI security editor Brian Rowan
"The timing of Professor Rea's announcement is significant"

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