» Thursday, February 3, 2005

Soldier compensation

Asked if we were concerned that a British family of a soldier who had died received £27,000 compensation, whilst an American family in a similar situation received £270,000, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said that in terms of international comparison, the situation was more complicated than it appeared initially. There were differences in health care systems, for example.  He said that MOD planned to increase payments from April this year, but the details were still to be finalised. The PMOS said he would rather comment further when an announcement had been made.

Asked repeatedly if the increase might be retrospective, the PMOS said it would be better to wait for the plans to be finalised.

Asked if the increase would be very significant, the PMOS said people should judge when the final figures were unfolded. The American compensation scheme took in account that their health system was very different.

Northern Ireland

Asked for further insights into the Prime Minister’s meeting with David Trimble and Paul Murphy, the PMOS said that Sinn Fein had said this morning that we were seeking confrontation. We were not. What we were doing was to state the facts as we believed them to be. The facts were that the IRA had carried out the robbery at the Northern Bank. This was not just No10 and the Secretary of State’s view, but also the view of the Chief Constable, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice in Dublin, and finally the Garda Commissioner. It was no coincidence that they had all come to the same conclusion. What we had to deal with was the criminality issue. Like Sinn Fein, what we believed Northern Ireland needed was equality of treatment, but equality was a two-way street, and people had to act equally in order to be treated equally. Robbing a bank, therefore, did not equate to equality. As the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach had said earlier in the week, we had addressed all the other issues, so the sole obstacle now was continuing IRA activity, which was why it was important that it ended.

Asked how seriously the Government was looking at some of the ideas Paul Murphy had talked about during his recent "doorstep", for example, a voluntary coalition of nationalist unionists, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had recently said, our preference was to move forward with Republicans on board. We had always believed that it was likely to be a more stable situation. However, we also had to face up to the fact that if the IRA was not able to face up to its activities, we could not just let everything else stop, and we had to keep moving forward. History had shown us that if a vacuum was left in Northern Ireland, dangerous things would fill it. Various parties had various different ideas, and we wanted to explore them. We were not deliberately excluding Sinn Fein, but if the Republican members refused to stop activity, they were in effect excluding themselves. We would therefore need to look at something else that filled the vacuum.

Asked when the vacuum might be filled, the PMOS said we needed a considered view from Sinn Fein. At the same time, the other parties had said they also wanted to develop their own ideas.

Asked if there were any other ideas that might be put across regarding Northern Ireland, the PMOS said we were willing to explore others’ ideas. The one thing that had been learnt regarding Northern Ireland was that people could not impose on the parties, or tell the parties what to do. We had to end up with cross-community support, which meant that both sides of the community had to agree. Therefore, we would explore with all the parties the best way to achieve that support.

Put to the PMOS that if, therefore, Sinn Fein did not stop its criminality, it would be excluded from any cross- community support plan, the PMOS said that it was right for us to see how it was possible to keep moving forward under the circumstances. He underlined that he had not said we had a plan or a blueprint yet, but rather that we talked to other parties in order to keep moving things forward.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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