Presbyterian Church: Definition of victim must change

Rev Norman Hamilton said 'innoncent victims' were different from people who planted bombs or set out to murder
Rev Norman Hamilton said 'innoncent victims' were different from people who planted bombs or set out to murder

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has demanded that the statutory definition of a Troubles victim be amended to make a clear difference between “innocent victims” and those that “set out to murder”.

Rev Norman Hamilton, convener of the Council for Public Affairs of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, expressed the church’s views for the current consultation on the past during an interview on the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

He was asked how it was possible to come to an agreed view aside from the current statutory definition, which says anyone who has been physically or psychologically injured in the Troubles, who cares for someone so injured, or was bereaved in such an incident, are all equally victims under the law.

“I am not sure that we are going to come to an agreed definition but I would like to think it is possible to make a distinction between the innocent victim and someone who sought to murder somebody,” Rev Hamilton replied.

“That is a clear moral and ethical distinction which is not reflected in the legal definition and if we could tease that out a bit I think that would be a great help.”

He added that “the pushing together of everybody in this definition is at the heart of the problem”.

And he suggested that “except maybe the hardliners on both sides – most people would say that there is a difference between somebody accidentally caught up in a bomb scare and the person who actually planted the bomb”.

Challenged that republicans insist that IRA members who were killed were also victims, he replied: “They may well say that but that doesn’t deal with the innocent victim who, for example, was in the Abercorn bombing, who was just sitting there and was seriously injured.”

The church is not opposed to the Stormont House Agreement “but the way they have been configured and put together as a [government] proposal to deal with the past, we don’t think is acceptable”.

There are questions about who is going to supervise the director of the proposed Historical Investigations Unit, emphasising that it must not be the Policing Board.

Writing in Wednesday’s News Letter, he said: “Realistically there are only two options on the table – the status quo and a significantly amended version of what the secretary of state has proposed.”

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said recently that his party will address widespread concerns being raised by terror victims by pressing for a redefinition of a victim through Westminster which would exclude perpetrators.