The latest contribution to our series is a talk REV ALAN IRWIN, whose father and uncle were murdered by the IRA, gave to the Ulster Unionist conference last Saturday, in which he said that even church leaders had been involved in the betrayal of the innocent:
As I thank you for allowing me to address you today as an innocent victim, I lost my uncle to terrorism, murdered on the Oaks Road, Dungannon, when his car was riddled with bullets leaving his family that they couldn’t identify the body.
Some seven years later, my father was shot at his place of work at Mountfield. Those with him travelled to Omagh to raise the alarm. The PIRA later claimed responsibility for both murders and as of yet we are not aware of the truth or justice or if there have been any convictions.
I currently, in a voluntarily capacity chair South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) advocacy steering group committee, seeking to empower victims and survivors to speak out about their experiences.
Innocent victims at last chance.com seems an appropriate title in which to address you today on the ‘legacy’ issues as I’ve listened to some of the commentary surrounding this current flawed attempt to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.
The clue is in the title of the consultative document, Northern Ireland’s past. To the outsider or those not familiar with the years of terrorism that wreaked havoc on these isles, might ask the question what past, as it inadvertently or deliberately excludes the word terrorism from it.
We’ve endured years of terrorism, terrorist activity and still do, though now we call them dissidents, yet society seems more reluctant to call it for what it was and is — terrorism. It may be something to do with the usual rhetoric — can’t do anything that might upset the peace process or take us back to violence — it affirms a ‘peace process’ built on a sandy foundation if any uncomfortable words can so easily affect its survival.
How do we deal with the terrorism of the past?
A difficult question, one we are told has no easy answers and yes it doesn’t when you build a “peace process” without admission of guilt, individually and corporately, with no genuine repentance, nor restitution for ones actions.
And then the failure to ensure that all participants entering politics at local, assembly and parliament, sign up to peaceful means, to denounce terrorism, past, present and future as unjustifiable. Without those fundamental foundations, how then can society expect to move towards the process of true forgiveness and that of genuine conciliation/reconciliation?
Will the proposals as presented in this latest document be the instrument of which we can, the simple answer is no. Not without major, major amendments, if in fact it is not a back to table scenario and this time to take on board the cries of the innocent victim that we are told the political elite have being listening to. Though, as you look at this set of proposals, it seems not.
It appears that many of the secretive deals in and from the 1998 Belfast agreement and agreements since, the early release of prisoners, unrepentant terrorists in government, the on the run letters, the royal prerogatives of mercy.
The destruction of forensic and ballistic evidence as the terrorist arsenal was being “put beyond use”; I’m sure, secretly to the delight of terrorists, for it to strengthen their argument, as no possible future convictions were now likely, as the chief constable has just recently confirmed.
What saddens me most is that church leaders were involved in that betrayal of the innocent. They are meant to stand up for the persecuted, the widow and the fatherless. They will say they did it for peace, but when you sacrifice truth and justice on the altar of peace you have no peace.
And most depraved of all, an immoral definition of what constitutes a victim, which puts the terrorist perpetrators in the same bracket as the innocent victims.
I cannot understand, why any government, especially the UK, would allow its constituent parts, whether they have devolved powers or not, to have in law a definition that is inferior to the UN, the EU, the Irish Republic whose definitions have causation by a criminal act of terrorism.
Therein is the challenge, not just for unionists, but for Alliance, the SDLP to grasp the high moral ground, have the political courage, to change it for the innocent.
Bizarre and undefendable as that is, we now have another policy that seeks to manipulate people’s fears and vulnerabilities, under the heading of ‘all parties have agreed’.
It preys on the gullibility of the wider populace that in telling them all the parties agreed to this, then they will willingly accept it, regardless of the detriment it will have on those it is supposed to benefit.
I don’t see how the secretary of state and the Northern Ireland office would have put this consultation document into the public domain, given its inability to fulfil its own objectives, unless they believed the ‘all parties have agreed’ policy was valid. However, that policy is beginning to unravel as parties distance themselves from these proposals.
As a family we were the proverbial football, kicked between the HET, PSNI and policing board until a family report of sorts was issued.
Under the current proposals my family, as others, will not have access to the Historical Investigation Unit (HIU), unless new evidence emerges.
I don’t see how the claims that these proposals are balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable are met. Even those who are eligible for HIU in all probability will end with a family report and no investigation. There is nothing that allows for the injured to get answers to what happened to them, why and will justice be achieved?
As Provisional Sinn Fein, it appears, don’t genuinely support the PSNI, possibly because of a deep distrust of ex RUC officers who still serve within its ranks, appeasement leads to a parallel HIU to carry out investigations.
The director of the HIU has too much autonomy in taking decisions in relation to whether investigations should take place, which is wrong and will lead to little or no confidence in HIU. Families’ legal rights, access to financial aid and the possibility of justice is limited under the current proposals.
Where in this is action stated from the Irish government and the Garda that they will release documentation?
The Independent Commission on Information Retrieval is an incompetent attempt to provide information to innocent victims, knowing that terrorists are unlikely to engage with it or even tell the truth of their acts. It has a more sinister element in that it allows further legitimising of terror. What information will come forward that will be creditable? How will ICIR assess it and to what legal standard. Even the PPS are sceptical of the proposals.
Provisional Sinn Fein’s response to these proposals is predictable. As apologists still unable to grasp that those they eulogise and glorify were terrorists/murderers, who carried out heinous crimes, naked sectarianism and ethnic cleansing.
Still in denial that republican terrorists carried out 60% of murders. Still delaying in telling the truth, providing information that could bring closure to families of every creed and at ease to allow families to die without answers to why those they defend believed murder, bombing, disposing of bodies secretly and torture was justified.
They are allowed to peddle this apportioning of blame to the UK government and the forces of law and order with relative ease, with rarely a rebuttal from senior sources within government.
While telling one’s story has its merits, the Oral History Archive has no measures in place to ensure information is accurate especially as this will allow the terrorists to tell their twisted narrative of the terrorism they wrought on society in the furtherance of their re-writing campaign.
One thing can be certain, is that the innocent victim will tell the truth, the question you must ask will the terrorist?
The Maze shrine, that for the present lies on a shelf, is rising from the ashes.
The Implementation and Reconciliation Group is not victim centred as the political class with their own ideological agendas will have control over it. Reconciliation with who? This isn’t defined.
Where is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing from the terrorists and from the Irish government in respect to terrorism and the failures to address the ethnic cleansing along the border areas?
Will this body look at terror organisations and give a clear insight into their actions?
Little in the current proposals gives me hope of an investigation or seeing truth prevail, they are not innocent victim centred and they give impetus to unfounded claims against the security forces and the UK government.
I find it puzzling why the UK government who defeated terrorism would then placate those terrorists. As someone put it recently, allow the terrorists to dictate the terms of their surrender.
I began with the title, Innocent victims at last chance.com, and some say that this is innocent victims’ last opportunity to get any semblance of justice or truth and we need to buy into this mentality. I’m not ignorant to the fact that I might never see justice for my father or uncle or others for their loved ones, but we keep trying, even if the political and public will has given up.
Often we hear, ‘things are different now, we moved on from those days’ but grief is still grief, terrorism still terrorism, murder still murder.
Our cry is the cry of any, we want peace, but not by sacrificing truth and justice, we don’t want others to experience what we have in our lives.
This isn’t the innocent victims last chance of justice or learning the truth for a higher justice is still to come, of which no one will escape, the righteous justice of God.
What we know in part we will then know in full and woe to those who have declared evil good, good evil, the guilty innocent and the innocent guilty, for you to may yet find your place with the murderers and the unrepentant.
Why are weinnocent victims who already carry the burden of injustice now being asked to carry the burden of lies and guilt? Why are we being asked to surrender to terrorists, to help placate them?
Why are we being asked to allow the terrorist to dictate our truth, our justice, our future? Why are we being asked to allow the terrorist to exonerate themselves from the culpability of 90% of the murderous atrocities? Why are we being asked to betray our loved ones and the forces of law and order? Have they not been betrayed enough?
• Rev Irwin is an Anglican minister in Lack. This was his talk to the Ulster Unionist conference last Saturday