Victim’s view: Keeping us from meeting with Libyan PM a scandal

Aileen Quinton
Aileen Quinton

I have noted with interest the articles about questions being raised about Tony Blair’s role in UK victims being excluded from the Gaddafi compensation that US victims, on the same writ, received.

Those questions still need answering but there are also questions to be asked about the continuing failure to resolve the issue.

The attitude from the present Government is that this is a private matter for the specific victims concerned and the lawyers. Regardless of Blair’s role, British victims have been disadvantaged because of an international agreement involving the US government.

How is it not the responsibility of the UK Government to involve itself in redressing such disadvantage for its citizens? How can victims’ representatives be expected to negotiate effectively at this level without Government backing?

It has been reported that at a meeting at the British embassy in Cairo on May 3, 1992 that Colonel Abdul Fateh Younis, representing Libya, said: “We as good Muslims feel that as an act of contrition we must make an offer of reparation for those who have suffered.”

It seems that the British party did not follow through with this as it was only mandated to talk about Lockerbie.

The Foreign Office has apparently dismissed the comment and its responsibility to act on it, saying that there is “no evidence to suggest the apparent offers recorded in this minute were ever genuine”.

This is not good enough. There would need to be proof that the offer was not genuine.

There is also the issue of relations between victims and the new Libya. There have been links built up between anti-Gaddafi Libyans and victims of IRA terrorism in the UK even before the uprising that ousted the dictator.

It was great to see these people coming together protesting Gaddafi’s presence in the US. Victims of IRA terrorism were amongst the first to recognise the National Transitional Council (NTC).

So many of us watched the unfolding uprising, in the safety of our living rooms, willing on the “rebels”, because of what we had been put through by Gaddafi but also aware of the scope for damage he had in Libya where he had so much power over people’s lives and indeed deaths.

In this dangerous world there is such an opportunity to strengthen ties between an African Muslim society and a European Christian one, by taking advantage of what Libyan and British victims of Gaddafi and the IRA have in common.

It is absolutely appalling that when the Libyan PM attended the G8 in Enniskillen, site of one of the most high profile atrocities associated with the IRA and Gaddafi Semtex, that instead of a meeting between him and local victims being facilitated, he was presented with a man who has been reported as having authorised the bomb and who at the very least was a leader of the organisation responsible, Martin McGuinness.

It is not credible that the Libyan Prime Minister could not have been encouraged and persuaded to meet with victims and celebrate the overthrow of our mutual enemy but was only too willing to meet Gaddafi’s ally.

Indeed word has come back through the victims’ network that he was not happy at being put in that position. The FCO and the Government should have considered such a meeting with victims to be an obviously positive thing and of paramount importance.

At worst, things were deliberately organised, including not telling victims he was coming to Enniskillen, to ensure such a meeting did not take place. At best, it was a diplomatic failure of gargantuan proportions.

This situation should not be allowed to carry on. We need our Government to involve itself properly in redressing the damage done to British interests.

There are frozen Gaddafi assets that could be unfrozen if there was sufficient will to do so. This money could be used to settle the outstanding part of the original writ and to compensate British Gaddafi/IRA victims not featured on it.

Agreement could be reached that the remainder goes to Gaddafi’s victims in Libya. Let us turn the tyrant’s money into redress for his victims in both our countries.

British businesses are excitedly looking forward to the opportunities

In the new Libya, as no doubt are Libyan businesses. Good luck to them. However is there not a case for them to be asked to make contributions to augment the money unfrozen? As well as going to individuals, victim-focused infrastructure could be established and supported as well as innovative mechanisms to consolidate the links between all Gaddafi’s victims.

It would do the business world no harm to be involved in this wider work of rebuilding Libya and increasing mutual Libyan-British understanding.

So I ask all parties to pull out a few stops. It should not be left to the victims to do it all. The current failure to harness the opportunities that are presenting themselves is almost criminal.

• Aileen Quinton’s mother Alberta was murdered in the 1987 IRA Enniskillen bomb