Victims’ Commissioner Kathryn Stone has largely avoided controversy during her first year in office.
Repeatedly, the impeccably polite Derbyshire-born woman has side-stepped questions about some of the emotive issues for victims: the official definition of a victim which includes bombers; the Maze peace centre; and Ann’s Law (the Special Advisers Bill).
While her approach has kept the Commission for Victims and Survivors out of the political storms which have raged around those issues, some victims have been frustrated at her avowedly neutral approach to a role which, in the commissioner’s own words, is that of “a voice for victims”.
Now, in an in-depth interview with the News Letter, Ms Stone has gone so far in her policy of not taking a position on controversial issues that she has refused to say whether the two groups responsible for the most Troubles’ murders were terrorist organisations.
Ms Stone declined to say whether the IRA, which killed 1,706 people, or the UVF, which killed 430, were terrorists.
When asked whether, based on her experience of meeting victims, she believed that the IRA were terrorists, the commissioner paused briefly and said: “Well, and again the difficulty for me is that I know there are some people who believe absolutely that they were. There are others who believe absolutely that they weren’t.”
Asked if she did not have a view on the issue, Ms Stone said: “My job is to represent the views of victims and survivors. Some victims absolutely believe that they were; others believe that they weren’t.”
Then, answering a question which was not asked, Ms Stone added: “If you want to ask me, was it right to march to Castlederg, my answer would be no it wasn’t...I also believe that for people to organise marches from a different community that mean people have to stop their religious worship because they can’t hear the priest when the priest is speaking; I also believe that doesn’t consider the impact on victims and survivors.”
When again asked whether she believed the UVF were terrorists, Ms Stone just said: “Some people would say they were; others would say they weren’t.”
When asked if she could understand why there will be victims who will read her words and be apoplectic with rage that she cannot say that a UVF man who shot a Catholic in the back of the head was a terrorist yet she is supposed to represent victims’ views, she said: “I’m also supposed to be representing the views of other victims and survivors as well.
“I absolutely appreciate that the things that happened here had the most terrible impact on people...it’s my job to represent their views; it’s my job to represent their voices.
“I’ve said in the past that I just can’t be drawn into the politics of those definitions and those discussions.”
Ms Stone’s refusal to be drawn on controversy meant that she also would not comment on Martin McGuinness’s IRA past without also commenting on Peter Robinson’s past (both men appointed her).
Asked if she believed that Mr McGuinness, as a former IRA commander, genuinely wanted to secure justice for his former organisation’s victims, Ms Stone said: “I think that in the interests of balance, and it’s something that we try to be at all times, both Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson in their conversations with the [victims] forum and discussions with me and the commission have been very thoughtful and very compassionate...”