Troubles victims travel to Rwanda to hear stories of healing from past atrocities

Families whose loved ones were murdered by the IRA spent 12 days in Rwanda listening to stories of healing from the hurt of the past.

Nearly one million people were slaughtered during the Genocide there in 1994. 

The victims say the scale of the killings is not comparable to what happened in Northern Ireland but they believe there are lessons to learn from the reconciliation that has taken place in Rwanda.

Reverend Alan Irwin lost his father and uncle during the conflict. They were both part-time UDR Soldiers.

"I think what's important is this wasn't an easy process for them and we have to understand even forgiveness isn't easy.

"But the clear element was without justice there wouldn't have been forgiveness. That really affirmed our stance as innocent victims that we need accountability, we need justice and we need repentance."

Families of victims from all communities in Northern Ireland are opposed to the UK Government's plans to push through legislation that will in some cases protect Troubles killers from prosecution.

Kenny Donaldson from the South East Fermanagh Foundation said: "It's the value system of Rwanda which we connected with."

"The necessity for justice and accountability to be part of the process from the word go- levering the potential for forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation.

"We throw around the words peace and reconciliation like confetti and the reality is we have not reached the point of peace, we have reached a stand off.

"Peace is not the absence of violence it's the presence of justice."

This has been a long and a tough journey for many survivors of the genocide in Rwanda.

Those who travelled there witnessed how perpetrators of that violence have managed to build relationships with victims.

Rev Irwin says Michelle O'Neill's comments that there was no alternative to the conflict does not help families who lost loved ones to IRA violence move on:

"They are very hurtful. To think that my father, my uncle, friends and neighbours - they don't matter, they just needed to be wiped out to promote some sort of agenda.

"If you have leaders educating the next generation it was ok to go out and cause violence it was okay to murder your neighbour, how can we have a peaceful society going forward - in true peace."

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