Former members of a forum for Troubles victims have criticised the failure to tell a pensioner whose son was killed in an IRA bomb that there was an IRA bomber in the group.
Jackie Nicholl, 79, quit the Victims and Survivors Forum last week after discovering that another member, 60-year-old Robert McClenaghan,had been an IRA bomber.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Ann Travers and Irene Kerrigan — both former members of the forum and both IRA victims — were highly critical of the Victims and Survivors Commission’s failure to inform Mr Nicholl of McClenaghan’s IRA past.
McClenaghan, who served a prison sentence for IRA bomb offences, was appointed to the forum in 2017 because his grandfather was killed in the UVF McGurk’s Bar bombing in December 1971.
Mr Nicholl’s 17-month-old-son, Colin, was killed in a no-warning IRA bomb in the same month. Mr Nicholl said he was only made aware of McClenaghan’s IRA background when he viewed a documentary in which McClenaghan said he was “immensely proud” of joining the IRA and how it was his “daily job” to plant bombs across Belfast.
Irene Kerrigan, whose sister-in-law Heather was killed and her husband David injured in an IRA bomb in 1984, said that while it was “morally wrong” for an IRA bomber to be on a forum for victims in the first place, she said the Commission should have at least made Mr Nicholl aware of McClenaghan’s background.
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was killed by the IRA in 1984, expressed a similar view.
However, Alan McBride, whose wife was murdered by the IRA in the Shankill Bomb, told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme that he did not have a problem with Mr McGlenaghan being a member of the forum, although he understood why some victims would oppose his presence there.
He said that “victims do not speak with one voice” on this and on many other matters.
And Andrée Murphy, deputy director of victims’ group Relatives for Justice, which is closely aligned to Sinn Féin, defended the convicted bomber.
She said: “I’ve known Robert McClenaghan for many, many years. A genuine, honest man who is trying to build peace and reconciliation based on universal truth and justice. “Attacks on him and his integrity are unfair on him and diminish our transitional society.”
However, McClenaghan’s appointment to the forum meant to represent victims has caused dismay to many of those who suffered most at the hands of terrorists.
Irene Kerrigan said: “I think it is time that someone steps up and says we need to change this ludicrous definition of a victim. How can anybody put an innocent victim and a terrorist on the same level? It is just wrong. It is morally wrong.
“This appeasement of terrorists has got to stop.”
Going back to McClenaghan, she said: “He was seemingly openly boasting about planting bombs in and around Belfast, and he’s supposed to be on a forum for victims?
“There’s something wrong. It’s so sad.”
She also had a specific criticism for the Victims and Survivors Commissioner Judith Thompson – who was responsible for the process whereby the convicted bomber was put on the forum and for what other forum members were told about him.
Ms Thompson, who is paid a salary of £75,000 a year to represent the interests of victims, has continued to defend how the situation has been handled. Ms Kerrigan said: “I think the Commissioner has let victims down and I think she has let Mr Nicholl down badly by not being open and transparent,” she said.
Ann Travers said: “One of the things we spoke about during my time on the forum was that victims do suffer from trust issues. In many cases it was our neighbours, friends, work colleagues, who actually ended up setting people up by giving information to terrorist organisations. You were very aware that you couldn’t say certain things in front of people growing up.
“To then have people on a forum without being completely transparent about everyone’s background is not right.
“The commission has a duty of care to inform every single solitary member of the forum.”
She added: “Being on the forum is stressful, it is difficult, and these are often vulnerable people.”
Earlier this week the PSNI confirmed that it will examine bombing claims made by McClenaghan in a documentary where he spoke openly about his murderous activities as an active terrorist.
In the video, which has been posted to YouTube, Mr McClenaghan said: “Some of the bombs would be small or some would have been very big. That just became part of your job or part of your day after a while.”
TUV leader Jim Allister has said: “He needs to be questioned about what bombings he was involved in.”