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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 15:49 GMT
Anger at idea Troubles was a war
burning car
The group is discussing how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles
A suggestion the British government may be asked to formally say it fought a war against the IRA has sparked anger.

It is one option being considered by the Consultative Group on the Past, which was set up to look at how best to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

However, the NI chief constable has said the legacy of the Troubles can not be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion.

But Sir Hugh Orde refused to give a view on the controversy over whether ex-terrorists should get an amnesty.

He said in his opinion the best way of dealing with the past is a "spectrum of opportunities".

He said these ranged from the "Historical Inquiries Team - which I think is important and making a difference - right through to that very difficult debate about amnesties, statutes of limitations and pardons".

Sir Hugh also declined to comment on whether the Troubles should be described as a "war".

He said it was up to the Consultative Group to determine if there could be a consensus on the past, but he personally doubted one could be found.

Sir Hugh was appearing before a Stormont committee, a day after the group held the first of seven public meetings in Belfast on Monday.

The group, co-chaired by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, is seeking talks with senior IRA and loyalist paramilitary figures before publishing a report in the summer.

Other mechanisms can be created to encourage paramilitaries to come forward without granting their wish for a rewrite of history
Stephen Farry
Alliance Party

Sources have said it may ask the government to say the period known as the Troubles was in fact a war, something claimed at the time by republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

Throughout the Troubles, successive governments and the security forces said they were dealing with criminal activity and a breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland.

Victims campaigner Willie Frazer said: "If there was a war it justifies the murder of our loved ones.

"It was not a war, it was a terrorist campaign."

However, a man whose mother was killed by a UVF bomb said it was important to move forward.

Jude Whyte said: "What Denis Bradley and Robin Eames are doing is asking people together to cross the rubicon and forgive, not to forget, but to hand the next generation something better."

Ian Paisley Jr of the DUP said: "If there was a war fought under the ordinary rules of engagement, they would have a case.

"Law and order would be turned on its head - it would be sickening and that's why it should be rejected."

There is no hierarchy of victims - everyone is suffering
Mitchel McLaughlin
Sinn Fein

Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party said: "Other mechanisms can be created to encourage paramilitaries to come forward without granting their wish for a rewrite of history."

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said: "The reality is that the IRA were and are insurgents, who were resisted by the legitimate forces of the United Kingdom."

However, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said: "There is no hierarchy of victims - everyone is suffering."

Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, who co-chair the group
Lord Eames and Denis Bradley co-chair the group
He said the group could "by no means be regarded as a neutral observer" as it was set up by the British government.

The report could also recommend that all groups involved in the violence should apologise for their role and consider signing an agreement that they will never again use violence for political ends.

The group's first public meeting will be followed by others in Londonderry, Bangor, Ballymena, Enniskillen, Armagh and Omagh over the coming weeks.

The independent group was set up by former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain with an aim to provide a platform for people to express their opinions on how to deal with the trauma caused by the Troubles.

Should the Northern Ireland Troubles be considered a war?
3545 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Troubles 'war statement' mooted
07 Jan 08 |  Northern Ireland
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22 Jun 07 |  Northern Ireland
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21 Jun 07 |  Northern Ireland
Troubles legacy 'needs addressed'
10 Oct 06 |  Northern Ireland

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