Victims attended Stormont to monitor the Victims Commissioner announcement which confirmed reports last week of a four person Commission. While we as a group argued for a Commission as the best structure and are glad to see wisdom prevail we feel this has fallen short of our demands. We were initially minded to present a positive response on today’s announcement however this afternoons press release from the government stating that Patrica McBride’s brother as a ‘an IRA volunteer who was killed by the SAS whilst on active service in 1984’. This terminology is lifted directly from the PIRA and its reiteration here demonstrates the interpretation this new Commission places on the events of the past thirty years. Her brother was an active terrorist who whilst in the very act of trying to kill others was dealt with by the security forces. Her inclusion raises serious questions and indeed all but answers them about just what definition will be applied to who is a victim.
We will not tolerate or endorse a revisionism that paints terrorists as volunteers and freedom fighters with the moral equivalency of soldiers and police officers. We were prepared to give the new Commission space and time and judge them by their actions. However if Patrica McBride and the government continue to legitimise terrorism then we as victims cannot be expected to play along. We have paid too high a price in blood to turn around and accept that terrorists have the same legitimacy and should be treated equally with victims. At present there is only one nominee Bertha McDougall who would command our confidence. The process leading up to the announcement was questioned by parties today in the Assembly who appear to have been left out, now we perhaps see why as Sinn Fein/IRA effectively vetoed the appointment of a Commissioner forcing the DUP to accept the inclusion of a Republican. Such delay adds to the suffering of victims who have been starved of funding and support for far too long.
There was much talk of money being made available to the sector however we wish to clarify how much of this money is new and will go directly to help individual victims and the groups which support them. We wish to respond to recent comments most notably by a so-called journalist Newton Emerson who appears to feel that groups are unrepresentative and victims undeserving. While these like many of his comments are more about self publicity rather than credible commentary we still must respond. Victims are angry and issue this challenge to him, come and work with us for a week and see the real need and the real work we do then make you mind up.
The Commission cannot become another expensive piece of bureaucracy and we continue to demand that it be independent of the political institutions. It must not be a talking shop but a powerful, vocal and effective champion for victims. We will ultimately judge the Commission by it actions. The first of these must be to develop a strategy and work plan without political interference, victims have on numerous occasions been very clear in what we need and what we want to see. This must now be reflected in a strategy and action plan. We will then expect the Executive and Assembly to match their fine words with actions as they legislate for this strategic response to our needs.
We also await clarification on the definition of a victim that will be applied to the work of the Commission. Any inclusion of terrorists in this definition is wholly unacceptable and we await the Commissioners individual and collective responses to this central issue. Victims will not simply be bought over and while we choose today to be fair and await further clarification we retain the right to make up our own minds. Groups will have to consult members and there remain many unanswered questions around the appointment process, the shape of the financial underpinning of the sector, when real help will reach victims and what future steps are necessary to move this process forward.
The role of Sinn Fein/IRA in this process and the fact that it was Martin McGuiness who fielded the questions in the Assembly today is a painful reality for victims and while we accept that political reality we will never accept its moral legitimacy. The sooner victims hold their own future in their hands the better and we move forward with the expectation that the four commissioners realise that they are the Victims Commissioners not the governments commissioners appointed to look after victims. Their work will only succeed if they can win the trust and confidence of victims we are unsure whether given the background of some that this is possible. This morning we approached Stormont with an open mind, however the Republican language that has been adopted, the sight of Martin McGuiness a terrorist commander standing dictating what victims would get has soured out opinion of today’s announcement
HELP US TELL THE TRUTH