Bereaved relatives tell politicians: ‘Morally repugnant’ victim definition must be changed

South East Fermanagh Foundation event panel (from left)  Jim Allister, Dolores Kelly, Diane Dodds, Dr Maire Braniff (chair), Danny Kennedy and Stephen Farry. Standing: SEFF director Kenny Donaldson
South East Fermanagh Foundation event panel (from left) Jim Allister, Dolores Kelly, Diane Dodds, Dr Maire Braniff (chair), Danny Kennedy and Stephen Farry. Standing: SEFF director Kenny Donaldson
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Victims of terrorism would rather live without a pension that have the killers of their loved ones financially rewarded, a panel of Northern Ireland politicians has heard.

One by one, a number of bereaved relatives and carers for those maimed by terrorism told a pre-European election event in Co Tyrone that they will never agree to such a “morally repugnant” payment equating innocent victims and perpetrators.

Addressing the five-person panel – comprised of DUP MEP Diane Dodds, TUV leader Jim Allister, Danny Kennedy of the UUP, SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly and Stephen Farry of Alliance – the sister of an IRA bomb victim urged them to press for changes to the Victims and Survivors (NI) Order 2006.

“The first thing the politicians have to do is to sit down and change the definition of a victim,” Michelle Nixon said.

Ms Nixon attended the SEFF-organised event in Dungannon on Tuesday evening along with her brother Grant Weir – who was left mentally and physically disabled following a 1979 terrorist attack on a UDR patrol near Rosslea.

“Don’t say pension to me if the guy who did this to Grant can get one as well.”

Rounding off her emotional plea to the political representatives, Ms Nixon said: “If Grant had his full facilities he wouldn’t accept a penny of it.”

Diane Woods, who had two family members killed by the IRA, said the definition is “at the core of all of the victims’ issues”.

Gary Murray, whose 13-year-old sister Leanne was killed in the 1993 Shankill bombing said: “The way it stands, my sister’s killer, Sean Kelly, is running about Belfast and he is also classed as a victim.”

Mrs Dodds said that although the current definition was “obnoxious,” we have a government “that will not change it,” while Mr Kennedy said the Ulster Unionists will “continue to pursue this issue”.

Mr Allister described the definition as “morally repugnant,” and said: “If [PM] Mrs May says that to change the definition would impede the Stormont talks, then maybe the Stormont talks should be impeded.”

Mrs Kelly said her party’s position was that “everyone is equal” and that there would be no change.

She said: “I don’t think there is any moral equivalence, but the history of our troubled past in complex.”

Mr Farry said: “I’m not saying I agree with [the definition] ... but we have to move on and address the whole spectrum of issues. I don’t see the basis for it to be changed.”

DEFINITION OF VICTIM

The controversial definition of a victim is contained in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

It interprets the status of a “victim and survivor” as:

• Someone who is or has been physically or psychologically injured as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident;

• Someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for an individual mentioned in paragraph (a) or;

• Someone who has been bereaved as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident.

A Northern Ireland Office consultation on how we deal with the legacy of the Troubles closed in September 2018 with the government’s response expected soon.

Kenny Donaldson of SEFF said that 95% of the 325 people who gave feedback to SEFF indicated that the definition of victim in the legislation was “a major concern”.

He said: “Many indicated that it is this issue which causes them deepest distress, that the state enables those who perpetrated terrorism and criminal violence to be classified as victims.”

Although the statutory definition is a matter for government, NI victims commissioner Judith Thompson said she “does acknowledge and understand the difficulties” it presents for some victims and survivors.