Britain’s Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the U.K. government will pay compensation to the families of those killed and wounded by British soldiers during the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre. The precedent set by the payouts could pave the way for families of those killed in other skirmishes and attacks during Ireland’s Troubles to make claims of their own.
In one of the most bitter events of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, thirteen people died after members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civil rights protestors in Londonderry on January 30, 1972. A 14th man died in hospital several months later. The event discredited the British military to countless Catholics, who had previously seen them as a neutral force protecting them from Protestant mobs. The shooting also boosted sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had begun its campaign against a divided Ireland two years earlier, and greatly aided their recruitment efforts.
A tribunal in the aftermath of the event described the shooting as “bordering on the reckless” but largely cleared British authorities of wrongdoing. But in June 2010, following a 12-year investigation, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry determined that “unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries.” Prime Minister David Cameron apologized to the victims on behalf of the government later that day.
According to the BBC, talk of payments came after the law firm Madden and Finucane, which is representing many of the victims’ families, asked Cameron what steps his government would take to “fully compensate” the families for “the loss of their loved ones…and the shameful allegations which besmirched their good name for many years.”
Determining who should receive compensation is murky territory. All the parents of those killed on Bloody Sunday have passed away, and many of the wounded are now dead. Given the age of the victims—11 of the 14 dead were under the age of 30—the majority were single and had no children. And some of the families of victims were previoulsy compensated shortly after the tragedy. But those small payouts—many were just a few hundred pounds, and all were made without any admission of guilt—will no doubt pale in comparison to the compensation the government will dole out this time around.
Some families have said they will not accept compensation until a soldier is prosecuted. Linda Nash, whose brother William was shot dead in the incident at the age of 19, said the offer repulsed her. “Not under any circumstances will I ever accept money for the loss of my brother. I find it repulsive, taking anything from the Ministry of Defence,” she told reporters. “If the MoD wants to set up bursaries they can, but not in my brother’s name.”
But many others will accept compensation for the state violence—and that could have knock-on effects for the large numbers of families affected by the Troubles in general. Once the Bloody Sunday payments begin, others injured by the British Army may seek compensation—along with the families of those the military killed. Those injured by Loyalist paramilitary groups and those who can prove the police colluded with Loyalist groups to target their relatives might also sue.
Tom Elliott, leader of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionists, believes the payouts vilify the state and set an unfair precedent for those who lost loved ones to IRA violence. “Many victims waking up to the news this morning will quite naturally be wondering ‘What about me?’ and more poignantly ‘What about my children and grandchildren,'” he said in a statement. “Three hundred police officers were murdered during the Troubles, 277 by the IRA. How many children and grandchildren of those who paid the ultimate price for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us have suffered as a result?”
The number of lawsuits filed following today’s announcement may prove to be a useful indicator.
William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.