‘How can McGuinness lecture victims conference on the past?’

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson and First Minister Arlene Foster at Wednesdays conference

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson and First Minister Arlene Foster at Wednesdays conference

A terrorism survivor has slammed former IRA commander Martin McGuinness for lecturing a victims conference about the state opening up files on the past while his own lips remain tightly closed about his terrorist exploits.

Ann Travers, whose sister was gunned down by the IRA in Belfast in 1984, was speaking on Wednesday after the Deputy First Minister addressed the annual victims conference - run by the Commission for Victims and Survivors (CVS) - for the first time.

Ms Travers said she had huge problems with what Mr McGuinness was saying in his speech at Titanic Belfast as she sat in the audience.

First Minister Arlene Foster also gave an address.

Professor slams conflict journalism at its worst

Ms Travers said many people will not have liked him addressing a victims conference, “as the organisation he was part of created so many victims”.

She added: “As he was speaking, all I could think about was the fact that he refused to give any information about the IRA when he had the chance during the Saville inquiry.”

Mr McGuinness told the conference that the state had to open up its files on the past and not hide behind ‘bogus’ national security concerns.

“But the IRA and people like him have to open up as well - not just the state,” Ms Travers told the News Letter.

“How do we know if he will give any information under the new institutions when he refused to do so at Saville?

“It is a very one-sided process. The only people the law can bring to account are the security forces or government. It feels very unbalanced and that has to be changed.”

It is understood that the current legal definition of a victim - which equates terrorists to their victims - is the number one topic being raised by victims groups across Northern Ireland in meetings with officialdom.

However, Ms Travers said she heard no mention of it on Wednesday morning at the conference.

Instead, Mr McGuinness’s concerns about the disclosure of state files was top of the official agenda. But Ms Travers dissented.

“The current definition of victim is the single most important thing that has to be changed, because as it stands the IRA gunman who murdered my sister Mary is just as much a victim as she is,” she said.

“We raise it all the time in the Victims Forum and with politicians and we are always told it cannot be changed,

“But the truth is that the politicians don’t want to change it.

“It would upset too many people who were involved in murder and who are now benefiting from the process or who are sitting in government.”

Ms Travers insisted it was right that the state is held to account and that files should be opened.

“However, it has to go both ways.”

She noted that any information provided by the IRA under the proposed Independent Commission on Information Retrieval will not be published and will not be admissible in court, in sharp contrast to files republicans are seeking from the UK state.

“Republicans have to tell what they know and not hide it away like that. Until we have the balance there will always be a simmering anger that one side is getting more than the other.”

Ahead of the conference, Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said a clear definition of national security would be the final key to breaking the deadlock on the implementation of the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

She said victims and survivors were reeling from the crushing disappointment of the Fresh Start agreement which effectively pulled the rug out from under their “rightful expectations”.

“Gut-wrenchingly disappointing as it was, I decided to look again at what had been agreed and why we had been led to believe, right up to the last minute, that there was a solution for those who had suffered so much over the last 40 years,” she said.

“What I found was that there had been real progress, substance and consensus in what had been discussed.

“The problem was the final hurdle of agreement on what constituted national security in preventing full disclosure to families.”

She was speaking ahead of the conference, which launched a major mid-term review on the progress of the 2009-2019 Victims and Survivors Strategy.

The commissioner said the current process could be the last chance to get meaningful agreement on the outstanding legacy issues.

“A workable deal is still very much on the cards and while I accept it will have to wait until after the Assembly elections, I am very clear that if we don’t get it now I don’t know when we will get any closer to a point where all the pieces are in place.”

She said national security could not be a convenient rock under which the government can hide uncomfortable issues.

“Neither can there be an excuse for anyone refusing to come forward to cooperate with the proposed new Historical Investigations Unit or Independent Commission for Information Retrieval.”

She added: “I am equally aware that what is on offer will not satisfy everyone but I am content that a solution is possible and there is something for everyone but not everything for everyone.”

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan also addressed the conference.

He urged ministers to grasp a window of opportunity to deal with Northern Ireland’s past before Assembly elections are called.

And he made proposals on legacy inquests which could see a new dedicated unit established and beginning to hear cases by September.

He said Justice Minister David Ford was about to write to the Executive on a united bid for funding from Westminster.

He said: “If there is no response before the election, we will almost certainly not be able to achieve a September start date, which would be extremely disappointing.

“We might at best be able to get one or two cases on before Christmas, but we would be unable to achieve the step change that is required to deal with all of these cases in an Article 2 compliant way.

“The rate of progress before I became president (of the coroners’ system) is evidence that the status quo is not an option.”

Professor slams conflict journalism at its worst