Politicians must heed “the depth of hurt” there is around proposed blueprints for handling the legacy of the Troubles, according to he head of a large-scale victims’ organisation.
Kenny Donaldson was speaking after an impassioned gathering at Stormont this week which saw heated scenes as some attendees, left bereaved by past violence, voiced their views to a multi-party panel.
The meeting at Stormont on Monday night was organised by Innocent Victims United (IVU), his umbrella group representing about 24 individual victims’ groups – and Mr Donaldson said signs of “boiling” frustration long felt by victims emerged.
On the panel were Paula Bradshaw (Alliance), Dolores Kelly (SDLP), Jim Allister (TUV), Mike Nesbitt (UUP), and Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP).
Neither Sinn Fein nor the PUP were invited due to their paramilitary connections.
The proposed blueprints stem from ideas put forward in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. The consultation closes on September 10 this year.
Mr Donaldson said on Tuesday: “Last night really illustrated the depth of hurt and frustration which exists within innocent victims, which has been boiling for quite a long time.
“The difference with innocent victims down the years has been they never had a means of letting out that anger, because of their perspective of non-violence and non-retailation; they essentially live life the right way.
“They’ve seen the criminal justice system being subverted to a point where punitive justice is getting to the stage where it’d be extremely difficult to deliver, and that is highly frustrating.”
When it comes to the contents of the consultation, he said victims “see those processes as offering only opportunities for those who wish to attack the state”.
One of the principal greivances is that the plans propose that families whose cases have already been reviewed by the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) are not be entitled to an investigation by the Historic Investigations Unit – the new planned Troubles policing body – unless certain criteria are met, such as new evidence coming to light.
By the time of its dissolution in 2014, the HET had already looked into 1,615 cases, involving 2,000 fatalities – over half of all Troubles deaths.
Asked what he hoped will come from Monday night’s gathering, he said: “I hope what it will do is make elected representatives across the board really understand the depth of hurt that there is out there at the moment.
“And that with these proposals as they are, if there is going to be mere tinkering to the architecture that’s there, that is not going to hold the confidence of the innocent victims.
“What was remarked upupon was the huge turnout. There was 115 folk on a Monday night in the summer, which really did illustrate I think that these issues do matter to folk.
“Irrespective of the time of the consultation, which many feel was going to try and almost negate people’s ability to respond, people are bucking the trend and coming out in their droves.”
To view or respond to the consultation, type this link into your internet browser: bit.ly/2IgmJTC
‘POLITICIANS CANNOT KEEP HEADS BURIED’:
Among those present at the heated meeting on Monday had been Shelley Gilfillan, a 61-year-old housewife from Castlederg.
Her brother Kenneth Smyth and uncle Lexie Cummings, both part-time UDR men, were killed by the IRA in 1971 and 1982, respectively.
“Victims know what they want, and it’s just one thing – that one thing is justice,” she said.
“Our dead can’t speak; we have to speak for them, and it seems to be falling on deaf ears at all times.
“The document [now out to consultation] is horrendous. There is absolutely nothing in that for a victim.”
In 2014, when the Stormont House Agreement was drawn up, then-DUP leader Peter Robinson was quoted by the BBC as saying it was a “very significant agreement”.
Ms Gilfillan put particular focus on the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly at the meeting, asking if she approved the plan, drawing the reply that “the DUP is not tied” to what it in it.
Asked if she thought Monday’s meeting would make the DUP more skeptical about it, she said: “I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t know how to get through to them...
“If the politicians don’t wake up and realise what the views are, I don’t know.
“You can only bury your head in the sand for so long – you have to come up for air. And they’ve got to realise that this isn’t what people want.”