The niece of a couple brutally murdered by the IRA has criticised Northern Ireland’s Victims’ Commissioner for her attendance at Martin McGuinness’s funeral.
Victims and Survivors Commissioner Judith Thompson attended the late IRA commander’s funeral in Londonderry on Thursday, while a service was being held in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh to remember those killed and injured at the hands of the IRA.
Ms Thompson – who is paid £75,000 a year to represent victims’ interests – pointed out that Mr McGuinness had (jointly with Peter Robinson) appointed her to the role.
Geraldine Ferguson, whose son Patrick Azimkar was murdered by dissident republicans in 2009 at Massereene Army Barracks, supported the commissioner’s decision.
“I am sure she thought long and hard before going but in my view it was probably the right thing for her to attend, even though it is messy and complex,” she said. “He chose the route of peace and left behind murdering people.”
But Florence Graham, whose brother Gordon Wilson was murdered by the IRA in Armagh in 1983 disagreed. “By attending the funeral the commissioner caused great hurt to all the victims that I know,” she said.
Ex-soldier James Leatherbarrow, who was in the IRA Ballygawley Bus bombing of 1988, also criticised the commissioner. “What the heck is she doing attending his funeral?” he asked. “He had blood on his hands and she is supposed to be the victims’ spokesperson.”
One of those at the Lisnaskea service was Diane Woods, whose aunt and uncle Thomas and Emily Bullock were murdered in their home near Derrylin, Co Fermanagh in 1972.
“My uncle [a retired UDR man] had a habit of watching the 6 o’clock news and he would have had his gun on the cushion where he was sitting.
“Several gunmen arrived, knocked at the back door and Auntie Emily went to answer. The police think that she may have known who it was, although we can never really be sure, and they blasted her and stepped over her body – sprayed bullets everywhere, and shot my uncle.
“I remember seeing him in the morgue with a bullet hole in his temple.”
Diane said it would have been more appropriate for the commissioner to have attended the special victims’ service Lisnaskea organised to coincide with the funeral.
Diane said: “Although she had not been specifically invited, the event had been widely advertised. As Victims Commissioner and therefore the chief advocate for victims, surely it would have been more appropriate to come and show solidarity and support for the innocent victims and survivors of IRA terrorism.”
Diane continued: “I have attended several European Victims’ Days in Stormont, held on an annual basis in March, and the Commissioner has always been notable by her absence. It would appear to me that this isn’t so high on her list of priorities.”
South East Fermanagh Foundation director Kenny Donaldson, who helped organise the service in Lisnaskea, said: “The Victims Commissioner’s attendance at Martin McGuinness funeral has baffled and hurt some innocent victims/survivors of terrorism.
“So too were those feelings evident when the commissioner permitted Martin McGuinness to lecture on ‘The Past’ at their 2016 conference, supposedly held to support victims and survivors.”
The Commissioner could not be contacted for comment. But when asked by BBC Radio Ulster whether her attendance at the funeral was appropriate, she said: “I’ve talked to a lot of people over the last three days since Martin McGuinness’s death was announced and people have an immediate, emotional, personal, deep connection to the most dreadful experiences of the loss, of pain and harm. Of knowing that their father never saw them grow up, they never saw their children grow up, that people never saw their grandchildren.
“People have an absolute right to respect for their own reflections, their own feelings at this time. That is the first, the fundamental here. As well as that, a lot of people at the same time as saying ‘I’m angry, I’m hurt, my life was changed and damaged’ also are saying ‘we understand that despite our legitimate grievances we can embrace a different future’.”