Victims commission got it badly wrong over appointment of IRA bomber

Jackie Nicholl pictured at his home. His 17 month old son was killed by an IRA bomb .'Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.
Jackie Nicholl pictured at his home. His 17 month old son was killed by an IRA bomb .'Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

In your October 1 edition Jackie Nicholl, whose son Colin, aged just 17 months, was murdered via a Provisional IRA terrorist bomb on the Shankill Road, Belfast in 1971, recounted his experience when he felt compelled to leave the victims forum.

Mr Nicholl spoke emotionally at losing his baby son to the actions of Provisional IRA terrorism, how he applied and then was subsequently appointed onto the victims forum but later felt tricked at being on a forum alongside a convicted PIRA terrorist bomber - Robert McClenaghan (who had been appointed on the basis his grandfather was murdered in the McGurk’s Bar attack). To be clear; the attack on McGurk’s Bar was an act of terrorism and wholly unjustified, those who died were murdered, that is without question.

Mr Nicholl clearly feels lets down by the system which he understood was there to protect him. He understandably feels hurt and alone. It is important that we publicly demonstrate our support and solidarity with Mr Nicholl and again call out the unacceptable and unjustifiable treatment he suffered.

At the time of Mr Nicholl’s resignation, following disclosure of video evidence confirming Robert McClenaghan’s role as a convicted PIRA bomber, crimes for which he was convicted (and information we brought to the attention of the victims commissioner in September 2017) we publicly and privately very directly challenged the processes at work within the victims commission and forum. We have not received satisfaction that any cognisance was being taken of the concerns we voiced.

The core issues remain now as they were then: the lack of care for vulnerable people through current policies which do not require would-be appointees to demonstrate adherence with Safeguarding and Access N.I disclosure. The argument submitted that the current definition of a victim means that Robert McClenagan can legitimately be appointed is disingenuous. Nowhere is there a requirement upon the commission to appoint those with serious criminal convictions (in the context of the Troubles). Inclusion can be met of victims/survivors from across our community without the necessity for such practices.

The commission has never confirmed that following the debacle it sought assurances from Mr McClenaghan that the boasts he made about being a bomber no longer represent his perspective, that he regrets making those comments and carrying out the associated actions and that he would now provide information to the authorities concerning the full extent of the crimes he committed as a PIRA bomber.

We need humility from the victims commission that it got it wrong and that it is now introducing new appointment guidelines and that it will never again appoint individuals to the forum who have serious criminal convictions in the context of ‘the Troubles’.

Its failure to do so means it will continue to be a cold house for many innocent victims. Including perpetrators means that the commission is willfully excluding innocent victims, people like Jackie Nicholl.

Kenny Donaldson

Director of Services, South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF)