26 March 2006

Ringland risks ire of unionists with demand for victims' forum

Sunday Times

Carissa Casey
26 March 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTREVOR RINGLAND, a former Irish rugby international, could be on a collision course with his colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party after calling for the establishment of a victims’ forum to help those affected by the Troubles.

(Ringland then)

Ringland is part of a unionist group that drew up plans for a forum following an invitation by Peter Hain, secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

The document, Drawing a Line Under the Past, is based on conversations that Ringland and others held with a variety of groups including Coiste, a republican ex-prisoners group.

Sir Reg Empey, the UUP leader, said the group had acted on its own initiative and that some members of his party might be less than enthusiastic about its work. “The issue about who is a victim and who is not is a very sensitive one,” he said.

Ringland says that the forum could be established at little cost and with no additional legislation. It would be community based but facilitated by Hain’s office.

The forum would not seek to establish facts surrounding events but act as a vehicle to allow victims to be heard. “What must be avoided at all costs in this divided society is the presentation of opportunities that could be exploited to rake over the coals of past grievances,” the document states.

The son of a policeman, who lived in west Belfast until the outbreak of the Troubles, Ringland is one of a number of new faces in the UUP. Capped 34 times for Ireland, he is a former British and Irish Lion and was appointed a spokesman for the party last August.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRingland is one of 26 members of the UUP who have held discussions with victims and ex-prisoner groups from both sides of the divide. At a meeting in January, Hain expressed an interest in their views on the victims’ issue and the resulting document was presented to him last week.

(Ringland now)

Mike Ritchie of Coiste said unionist acknowledgment that its members had met his organisation was “a welcome step forward”. Ritchie is keen that any forum would be like the South African model, which examined the nature, causes and extent of the conflict.

“It’s accepted in the international scene that every conflict requires some form of truth recovery as part of the peace process,” Ritchie said. “The problem is we still haven’t agreement as to the causes of the conflict.”

It has been estimated that a minimum of 6,800 people in Northern Ireland lost a parent or sibling in Troubles-related incidents. Some 3,600 people lost their lives and there were 30,000 serious injuries.

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