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The Ulster Declaration: Victims' families wary: The Bereaved

MORE THAN 3,000 people have died in 25 years of bloody conflict in Ulster. To families permanently scarred by the loss of loved ones, the prospect of peace has a heavier meaning. With hopes falsely raised so often before, many were cautious about yesterday's declaration.

Rose O'Kane's son, Noel, 21, was the victim of a random sectarian attack by the extreme loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters earlier this year. He and three other builders were shot dead as they began work on a house at Castlerook, Co Londonderry. The murders, the day after the IRA bombing in Warrington, were seen by some as crude revenge.

Mrs O'Kane reared her 10 children to have no truck with politics. 'I never bothered with politics. Neither did Noel. He was a quiet wee fella who worked six days a week. Everyone thought the world of him. He would have been 22 tomorrow (Friday). On Christmas Day it will be nine months to the day since he was shot. And he died for what? His killing did not get the terrorists anywhere but it wrecked us.

'I don't know much about politics and I don't really know what the declaration means but I hope it brings peace. Without it, it will always be the innocent who suffer.'

Charlie Butler, who lost his niece, Evelyn Baird, her husband and her seven-year-old daughter seven weeks ago in the Shankill bomb, said the declaration offered a glimmer of hope. 'It is now up to the men of violence. They now have the incentive of a place around the negotiating table.' But he said he would not be surprised if the killing continued, or escalated.

Kathleen Kennedy, whose son, James, 15, was killed two years ago in a UFF attack on a Belfast betting shop, believes the declaration will never amount to anything more than words on paper. 'How can anything get better with people like Ian Paisley around? My husband has stopped giving interviews because nothing ever makes any difference here. My son was just a schoolboy but he bled to death on the road. I have lost three stone since it happened. I will never get over what happened and I can never forgive the people who did it.'

Gordon Wilson, whose daughter, Marie, 20, died with 10 others in the IRA Remembrance Day attack on Enniskillen in 1987, said he had to try very hard not to allow his reaction to be coloured by the fact that his family had suffered at the hands of the terrorists.

He said yesterday: 'I do not accept that to deal with Sinn Fein is in some way letting down those that have been killed at their hands. Peace would make a little more sense of Marie's death.'