Troubles victims must be understood, not patronised

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

We have a Victims Commissioner living amongst us who refuses to describe the people who terrorised us for decades as terrorists. Few of us today who have had to live through the Troubles are in any doubt that that is exactly what the men of evil were and we can be absolutely certain that it was their style of evil killing that is now being copied in countries like Pakistan and Kenya.

Kathryn Stone, Victims Commissioner gave an interview to the News Letter this week in which she was repeatedly asked about using the term terrorist.

She refused to say that the IRA and UVF were terrorists, saying “some victims believe they were, others believe they weren’t”. The BBC doesn’t like to use the term either not even for those latest atrocities in Pakistan and Kenya which to the rest of us were acts of naked terrorism.

How can terrorism be neutralised in this way? What does it do to its real victims – don’t for a moment think that a bomber killed by his own bomb is a victim too as the IRA imagines – those ordinary, everyday people killed indiscriminately for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or those torn away from their homes and loved ones and killed in lonely places which will forever seem haunted by the horror of it all. Husbands, fathers, mothers, children, even unborn babies became the legitimate victims of terrorism here and none of us should ever forget that.

In the interview Ms Stone seems pleased with herself that she is not from Northern Ireland; that way “I don’t have any baggage”. But because she didn’t want to be seen as an outsider flying in and out from England (she was born in Derbyshire) she has moved to live in the province. I don’t care where she lives — it’s what’s in her head that counts and I’m not satisfied she understands us or our victims as well as she thinks.

For example, Ms Stone promises to tell American diplomat Richard Haass of the “epidemic of emotional turmoil in this place”. I would suggest it is much more than emotional turmoil which is the sort of thing one might feel after seeing a bad film. Most people, particularly the victims in this country, are angry, furious and devastated at the attempts to gloss over our Troubles. They are sick and tired listening to the likes of BBC radio presenters telling victims they have to “move on” and put the past behind them. Most of us are outraged at the idea of a shrine to terrorists being considered on the site of the Maze prison, we were enraged when most terrorists served paltry sentences for the most evil of crimes and are now getting on happily with their lives. We have to accept that we live in a democracy which allows former IRA members, some of them with blood on their hands, to sit in our parliament at Stormont, working religiously to destroy the culture the rest of us have grown up with. To describe us as emotional is insulting and devalues what we have been through. The continuing flag disputes are a symptom of all this unhappiness and frustration.

The ‘impeccably polite’ Ms Stone has, says the article, left some victims frustrated at her ‘avowedly neutral approach’ to the role which she herself describes as “a voice for victims”. The voice needs to be a lot louder and clearer if the real victims of our terrible war are to find any comfort and peace with which to live the rest of their lives.