'Gobsmacked' of Ulster finds reason to smile

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The Independent Online
THERE was a lot of surprise and approval but also a little scepticism at Tony Blair's quick offer of financial help for victims of violence in Northern Ireland following his visit to Belfast.

The Downing Street announcement that the Prime Minister is asking Gordon Brown and Mo Mowlam to find "a few million pounds" for the fund was, observers believe, designed to help temper loyalist antipathy to aspects of the peace agreement. Yesterday, it appeared to have been effective.

"I am gobsmacked" said the woman whose demand to Mr Blair that he should do more for the victims is said to have led to action just 12 hours later.

Arlene Foster, a honorary secretary of the Ulster Unionist Party, had told him during a meeting on Wednesday night in Belfast that although prisoners and their families received pounds 1m from the European Union's peace and Reconciliation Fund, victims got pounds 600,000.

Ms Foster, who is part of a campaign on behalf of protestant farmers who had left their land in the border areas because of IRA intimidation, said: "I had no idea all this would happen so quickly. Mr Blair was obviously listening to what was being said. It is excellent news."

Mary McNeice, of the press group Widows Against Violence Empower (Wave) said "Obviously this would be very useful. As well as the financial help it is very nice having the acknowledgement of what victims and their families have to go through.

"Some of the money could go towards the education of children whose schooling has suffered because of violence, and could also go towards counselling for trauma, and towards a pain clinic for those who continue to suffer."

But Sam Malcolmson, who, in 1972 as a 22 year old police constable lost the use of a leg after being shot by the IRA in Crossmaglen, South Armagh, is yet to be convinced that the promises would be translated into hard help.

He said: "I am afraid I have seen successive governments and secretaries of state make all kinds of promises which don't really come to anything. All it does is falsely build up people's hopes."

Mr Malcolmson, a member of the Disabled Police Officers Association, supports Ms McNeice's call for the establishment of a pain clinic. He himself has to take morphine everyday to cope with chronic pain.

He said: "If funds actually are made available then it would be very helpful to have a pain clinic.

"I would not oppose terrorists who had received injuries themselves being treated there as well," he added.