Victim definition puts moral equivalence between perpetrator and the innocent

It is no secret that Robert McClenaghan has a terrorist conviction.

Kenny Donaldson, who is spokesman for Innocent Victims United
Kenny Donaldson, who is spokesman for Innocent Victims United

A cursory check on Google would reveal his terrorist past which of course can be corroborated with official records including his being convicted in a court of law for carrying explosives, serving 12 years of a 20-year prison sentence.

The issue is not that Robert McClenaghan was appointed onto the Victims Forum, however morally wrong that is, the reality is that the current definition of victim provides cover for that appointment to happen.

This is on the basis that Mr McClenaghan’s own grandfather was murdered in the McGurk bar attack, and also because a previous forum member, Michael Culbert, who served 16 years for the murder of a police officer.

The rationale for his appointment to the forum was that his relatives were said to have “burned out of their Bombay street home in Belfast in the early days of ‘The Troubles’.

In the commission’s flawed efforts to reflect a communal victim-hood narrative they have used the current definition of victim as justification for appointing people like Robert McClenaghan and Michael Culbert.

However the outworking of such appointments is that a message is being sent that there is no differentiation between those who have been humanly wronged by others actions but who remain lawful in their response and others who engaged in terrorism and criminal violence either before, during or after themselves being wronged.

For the record we acknowledge that Mr McClenaghan had an uncle murdered by loyalist terrorists within an attack on McGurk’s bar and this was wholly unjustified and wrong.

It is of great concern to many that Robert McClenaghan was appointed against a backdrop of the Victims Commission claiming that they were unaware of neither his terrorist conviction nor his wider involvement in PIRA terrorism.

No criminal background checks are felt appropriate to conduct into those being considered for appointment despite the fact that the forum is comprised of vulnerable adults, many of who suffer trauma-based conditions.

It is also a matter of record that the commission had become aware of Mr McClenaghan’s terrorist conviction several months ago and questions require answering around why no additional action was felt appropriate at that point in protecting other forum members?”

The commission’s response to Mr Nicholl’s resignation was that: “All panel members are required to meet the definition of a victim in the 2006 Victims Order (NI) — which makes no distinction between victims and perpetrator — but they are under “no obligation to disclose any other information” other than their religious background.

“All members were made aware of the inclusive nature of the forum ... and that the nature of the role may mean engaging with individuals who they may perceive as representative of those who caused hurt or harm.”

This is not a credible response. It is interesting to note that those members on this current forum and who have served on previous forums who have been members of the security forces or whose loved one’s were members and were murdered have been fully open and transparent about their background.

In light of the potentially criminal claims and admissions made by Robert McClenaghan within the ‘When the War ends’ documentary, we call upon The Victims Forum to suspend Mr McClenaghan.

Surely there is a duty of care to other forum members which must be upheld. If no steps follow then this is confirmation that a hierarchy of ‘victims’ is at play— those with terrorist and criminal convictions are effectively being afforded ‘special category status.’

Enough is enough; there must be a re-examination of the definition of victim, whilst the current definition remains victim’s policy will forever be contaminated by equivalence issues — perpetrators and the innocent from across our community.

And innocents like Mr Nicholl will continue to be failed.

• Kenny Donaldson is spokesman for Innocent Victims United