Victims Commissioner coy on numerous issues

Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone
Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone

Kathryn Stone did not take a prominent role in articulating the opposition of many victims who opposed the Maze peace centre.

Other victims groups did lobby vigorously against the centre and First Minister Peter Robinson later cited the opposition of victims as crucial to his decision to veto the development.

Does that mean that the commissioner failed?

“No, I don’t think it was,” the commissioner told the News Letter. “I think we did have comment to make on the Maze-Long Kesh and I gave interviews which said there are some victims for whom this is a line that should not be crossed... that to have a peace-building and conflict resolution centre at Maze-Long Kesh will become a shrine to terrorism and it should never, never happen.

“There are other victims, and these are views that were held by members of our forum, who said that because of the history of the Maze-Long Kesh it is absolutely the right place for a peace-building and conflict resolution centre.”

Given that other victims’ groups made very clear representations against the centre, is there not a danger for her that in future if victims want something done they go to one of those groups, not the Commission for Victims and Survivors?

“That’s people’s absolute right within a democracy – to lobby politicians.

“The victims’ commission is the statutory place in law for us to advise [politicians].”

On the Special Advisers Bill, Ms Stone was again non-committal, saying that “many people thought it was the right thing to support; others felt that it was the wrong thing to support”.

On reflection, was the Special Advisers Bill – described by Ann Travers as the first victory for victims since the Good Friday Agreement – a good law?

“Whether it’s a good law or a bad law is not for the commission to comment on.”

Ms Stone also declined to say whether she felt that a majority of victims believed that the official definition of a “victim” should be changed to exclude those who were members of terrorist organisations.

She said that “some victims” feel the definition is “a bad law”, while “others” feel “to try to change the definition would actually take us back rather than enabling us to go forward”.

Throughout the interview, the commissioner gave great weight to the Victims’ Forum – a selected group of victims who advise the commissioner.

Although the forum is bitterly divided on some crucial issues such as the definition of a victim, Ms Stone said that it does agree on several things, including that the Troubles must never happen again.

The commissioner is to meet Richard Haass to put across the views of victims as he examines how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, parades and flags.

She said it was “incredibly important” that Dr Haass has the views of victims “clearly on his agenda”.

When asked what she would tell Dr Haass, she said: “I will tell him what the forum ask me to tell him...I’ll also tell him my experience of meeting many victims – I think on average I’ve met one group of victims every week.”

The commissioner said that she would tell the US diplomat that “there is an epidemic of emotional turmoil in this place”.

She added: “Some people are really interested in the politics and some are interested in economics. I’m really interested in people.”