The law must be changed so terrorists are not granted the same status as the victims they create, a senior unionist MP said yesterday.
DUP member for Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson was one of a raft of politicians airing their views at a Commons debate into the legacy of the Troubles yesterday, coinciding with the Shankill bomb anniversary.
He said it was “an affront to decency” that IRA bombers are defined the same way as their victims, and said he was making a bid to alter the law himself.
Mr Donaldson told the Commons: “The DUP remains firmly of the view that you cannot equate the perpetrators of terrorist violence with their innocent victims. Yet that is precisely what the current law does in Northern Ireland under The Victims and Survivors Order.”
For example, he said under current law Shankill bombers Sean Kelly and Thomas Begley are classed as victims too.
He has introduced a private member’s bill over this issue, which he said is due for a second reading in December.
He said: “My bill would ensure that an individual killed or injured as a result of their own act of terrorism or convicted of a terrorist-related offence as defined in law would not be classified as a victim for the purposes of deriving any benefit from schemes designed to assist victims and survivors.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the Government was willing to play its part in dealing with legacy issues, adding: “But I’m also very clear that we don’t own the past. The reality is for any process to succeed it must command a substantial consensus amongst the Northern Ireland political parties and across the wider community.”
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis said it would be “mistaken” to suggest the past is Ulster’s biggest challenge, citing instead “the corrosive cycle” of deprivation, unemployment and low education which blights many communities.
“It is a lethal cocktail which has the potential to be the breeding ground for extremists and perpetual conflict and instability,” he said.
DUP MP David Simpson also spoke on the subject of Ulster’s troubled past.
He said: “In every sphere of life, people see things from different perspectives. Ask two people about an event they have both witnessed and you will oftentimes get two very different descriptions of the same event.”
But he went on to insist: “Truth is not a relative concept and it exists independently of historical revisions or approach. Without the establishment of widespread acceptance of such truth we cannot hope to address adequately the legacy of pain and suffering that still exists.”
Party colleague William McCrea said if the IRA believes it was fighting a war then senior members should be answerable to a war crimes tribunal.
A nationalist voice was heard in the form of SDLP MP Mark Durkan, who said: “Collusion wasn’t just something where agencies of the state allowed loyalist attacks to happen, the fact is agents of the state also allowed republican attacks to happen,” adding “if we don’t have the truth about the dirty war we will be settling for a dirty peace.”
At the end, a motion passed, recognising “the deep sense of loss still felt by the innocent victims of violence and their continuing quest for truth and justice” as well as to ensure “those who engaged in or supported acts of terrorism will not succeed in rewriting the narrative of this troubled period”.