Last Friday I attended the launch of A Charter for Innocent Victims. The charter is the work of Innocent Victims United (a consortia of victims groups and ex-security service support organisations) and represents the beliefs and concerns of innocent victims and survivors of terrorism and their relatives across Northern Ireland.
It’s an indication of how isolated and neglected they are that, 15 years after the Agreement was negotiated, they feel the need to raise their voices and profile.
There will be and can be no resolution or reconciliation – in the full and proper meaning of those terms – until we resolve the issue and definition of ‘victim’. And that definition must be a stand alone, morally based definition: not just a form of words designed around the need for political expediency. Nor just a form of words to serve as a quid pro quo for some other part of the jigsaw that is our so-called peace process.
It is sometimes said that the victims/survivors of terrorism are silent and forgotten. They are not. They are heard every day – in their own groups and across the media. Every single day of their lives, when they look at a picture, or glance at an empty chair, or open a newspaper, or gather with family and friends at a wedding or other celebration, they are reminded of their loss and of continuing pain. There is no early release scheme for the victims/survivors of terrorism.
Yet there are still those who would prefer to sideline and try to bypass the needs and concerns of Innocent Victims United (IVU). That’s because it is clear that victims/survivors of terrorism are an embarrassment to them; a reminder of their own past; an obstacle in their attempt to rewrite history and recast themselves in a brighter, whiter light.
I’ve never had the sense that most victims/survivors of terrorism are opposed to the peace process, or that they are motivated by some desire to destroy or destabilise the political structures. And nor do I sense that they are implacably opposed to the sharing of power between unionists and republicans: even those republicans or loyalists who have served time for terrorist offences.
But they are opposed –and rightly so – to a process which sees them characterised and defined as precisely the same as members of terrorist organisations. They are opposed to a process in which terrorists are allowed to present themselves as liberators. They are opposed to a process in which they have become mere spectators while others write a new role for them: a role in which their hurt and sacrifice is deemed to be equal to that of those who inflicted the hurt and demanded the sacrifice.
They are opposed to a process which seems to encourage the growth of permanent memorials and ‘shrines’ to terrorism, while allowing the memories, sacrifice and voice of innocent victims to be diminished, before eventually vanishing with the passage of time. They are opposed to a process which airbrushes them out of the historical narrative of the story, truth and consequences of what has happened to them.
I’m pretty fed up with listening to loyalist and republican terrorists (along with their apologists and frontmen) insisting that they have a story to tell and a right to be heard. Maybe so: but the story of the person killed, injured, psychologically scarred and deprived of loved ones is not – and must not become – the same story as the terrorist who planned the terror, squeezed the trigger and planted the bomb. It must not become the same story as those who believe that orchestrated terror was necessary and justified. It must not become the same story as those who bombed their way into a political process.
So yes, I agree with the IVU view that there should be an end to ‘revisionist language’ as well as a halt to the Conflict Transformation Centre project at the Maze. Whatever Jeffrey Donaldson (or the DUP) may think, it strikes me as inevitable that some part of the Maze project would become a ‘shrine’ for IRA terrorism, followed, in pretty quick order, by another part becoming a ‘shrine’ for loyalist terrorism. And all at the taxpayers’ expense.
Actually, there’s a part of me which doesn’t really care if they want a ‘shrine’ of some sort – but at least let them pay for it themselves and fund it with donations and visitor receipts. If they want to tell their story, then go ahead and tell their story. There is, after all, a Sherlock Holmes museum in London which does a steady business from those who want to buy into the myth that he was real! But why should the taxpayer fund what would be, to all intents and purposes, propaganda museums for terrorist groups?
Also, the same problem arises if you moved the Transformation Centre to somewhere else, because a propaganda museum serves the same purpose irrespective of where you place it. Alcatraz doesn’t serve as a propaganda exercise for Al Capone and other gangsters. Belsen isn’t a propaganda museum for the Nazis. Robben Island isn’t an homage to the ANC. But the IRA (and Sinn Fein), along with loyalist terror groups, will use the Maze or any other venue to glorify themselves and provide an utterly biased version of events.
Resolution and reconciliation can only be built on truth. Propaganda is not and never ever can be truth. You cannot have a truth process if there is no clear line between truth and propaganda. There can be no reconciliation between victim and victim maker if you accept the premise that they are cut from the same cloth. Please, let’s stop trying to build the future on a mountain of lies.
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