'Volunteer' row rocks Victims' Commission

THE new Victims' Commission was already mired in controversy last night after it released a statement which spoke of an "IRA volunteer" killed "on active service".

Barely a day old and the new body was under attack from unionists and victims' representatives outraged at the language contained in an introductory Press release.

The statement even appeared on the website of the Office of First and Deputy First Minister for a time, further fuelling anger.

It was later removed after the News Letter contacted the OFMDFM.

DUP insiders last night said First Minister Ian Paisley was furious that the article was on the OFMDFM site.

Ulster Unionist MLA David Burnside said the use of the word "volunteer" was deeply offensive and "totally unacceptable" – as the debate over the definition of a victim gathered momentum.

"The word is terrorist or criminal, not volunteer," he said.

"This is a blatant attempt to rewrite

history and part of the process to try to legitimise the terrorists' murderous actions and suggest they were the victims in the same way that innocent people or the law-abiding members of the security forces were victims."And for OFMDFM to have facilitated this statement is just appalling."

South Armagh victims' spokesman William Frazer said: "We had an unwritten understanding that this sort of language would not be used.

"I have spoken to members of our group (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives) who are already saying they now want nothing to do with this commission.

"We want to give it (the commission) a fair wind but in the face of this type of thing it will not be possible. How dare they suggest that IRA members were some type of romantic heroes. They were murderers."

A spokesman for OFMDFM tried to distance it from the row.

He said that it had carried the Press release in good faith to assist the Victims' Commission which does not yet have a website or the machinery in place to issue statements."

The Press release clearly states in capital letters: 'Statement issued by the Commissioners Designate for Victims and Survivors', and included a contact telephone number for their office," he said.

"The content of the statement is entirely a matter for the commissioners."

The offending language appeared in a profile introducing Commissioner Patricia MacBride.

It said: "Ms MacBride's father and brother were shot and wounded during a sectarian attack on their home in 1972, her father dying later as a result of his injuries. Her brother was an IRA volunteer who was killed by the SAS whilst on active service in 1984."

Anton MacBride was killed in disputed circumstances by the SAS near Belleek.

He was part of a five-man IRA gang preparing an ambush on security forces.

Mr Frazer warned that FAIR may cut off any communication with the commission and even protest at its meetings.

"We have members of our group whose loved ones died in the Shankill bomb (1993)," he said.

"Does this commission want to come and meet them and tell them Thomas Begley (one of the bombers) was on 'active service' and doing his duty when he killed innocent women and children?

"Are they saying that IRA members were volunteers and therefore suggesting that in acting voluntarily they are somehow honourable and even of a higher standard than soldiers or policemen and women who took home a wage to stand in the face of these terrorists?

"I challenge them to tell the law-abiding people, Protestant and Catholic, of this country that IRA members or any other terrorists were victims – and victims of equal importance to those on the Shankill or the other massacres of innocents."

The News Letter spoke to two Victims' Commission officials but was informed that it did not yet have a facility for responding to the media.