Blair offers aid to victims of Troubles

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The Independent Online
CASH help for the families of victims of violence in Ulster was ordered by Tony Blair yesterday after hearing criticism from Unionists that the Government was doing more for the prisoners than the families of those they murdered.

Downing Street also disclosed that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is planning to unveil a major package of financial aid to boost inward investment for the Province next Tuesday in a move which will be seen as part of the concerted campaign to win a "yes" vote in the referendum on the Ulster peace plan on 22 May.

The Prime Minister ordered the Chancellor to find more money for the victims and their families as he met Ulster leaders of the Orange Order who emerged from Downing Street still determined to call for a vote against the peace package.

The Order underlined the difficult task he faces in persuading hard-line loyalists to support the package after trying to reassure them over prisoner releases, and decommissioning of terrorist weapons. The planned joint visit to Belfast for the "yes" campaign by Mr Blair, William Hague and Paddy Ashdown, is likely to be scrapped after soundings suggested that it would be counter productive to "have three Englishmen telling Ulster voters what to do". Mr Blair is expected to opt for a solo visit next week.

"There are misapprehensions about the package and we are trying to deal with the facts," said a Government source.

John McCrea, secretary of the Orange Order, said a county meeting of the Order in Ulster would announce its decision in 36 hours, but Mr Blair had made it clear that the package was not amendable, including the parts "we find objectionable".

The Chancellor is planning to announce the cash help for the Northern Ireland economy on Tuesday on a rare visit to Belfast. Mr Brown's package will be followed on Wednesday by the Bloomfield report on proposals for commemorating the victims of violence, which include building memorials, establishing clinics to deal with trauma from the Troubles, and planting a "forest of peace" to those who have died in the violence.

In Belfast, the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, yesterday launched a spirited counterattack against Unionist critics of his endorsement of the Good Friday agreement, accusing them of political cowardice and lack of vision.

He was speaking at the launch of his party's campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendums, ironically at almost the same moment as Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, was tendering similar advice to republicans.

The White House confirmed yesterday that President Bill Clinton had scrapped plans for a visit to Northern Ireland later this month out of concern that his presence might disrupt the referendum campaign.