In September 2011, I attended a Platform for Change event in the Black Box in Belfast. The event was actually a presentation by some women mostly from Derry. Victims….including the widow of Patsy Gillespie, chained to his car which was loaded with a bomb and he was ordered to drive to a British military checkpoint. He died in the explosion …as did some British soldiers.
At the end of the presentation….attended by the usual suspects….chattering classes and academics from South Belfast…..one member of the audience commented to much nodded approval….that he had no idea of how these women had lived their lives.
SHAME ON HIM. I am of course from West Belfast, less leafy than South Belfast and these testimonies were not untypical of so many in working class areas…Catholic and Protestant. People have been screaming these testimonies for four decades. The Conflict Resolutionists talk about giving voice to victims…the reality is that they dont give a tinkers curse for giving victims a voice. They merely want a reason to give EARS to people like themselves. They are….voyeurs who get a kick out of hearing stories from victims.
There is or should be no hierarchy of victims. Yet some victims are more “popular” than others. “Popular” seems an odd word for me to use. But it is accurate.
There are…different victims. None of us really know the kinda victim we would have been. I am an articulate man…educated and while I unashamedly desribe myself as being not only FROM West Belfast….I am also OF West Belfast. But I wont play the stereotype for any Conflict Resolutionist or LetsGetAlongerist. You can take the boy out of the Falls Road but you cant take the Falls Road out of the Boy. Well not this Boy.
I often wonder how I would have reacted if a member of my family had been killed in the 1970s.
The rather obvious fact is that a lot would depend on who had been responsible. A stray IRA bullet or a carelessly planted IRA car bomb. A British Army “accidently discharged” SLR ( compounded by allegations of acting suspiciously). A UVF-UDA Romper Room sectarian assasination. And I would no doubt be influenced by how the Police and Courts handled the investigation. Its that simple.
But I am pretty sure that I would not be the type of person to “move on”. And yet this is what Society is asking the Victims to do…move on…so that the rest of us can enjoy the passivity of life in 2013. Dont embarras us or yourself by living in the past. Thus Willie Frazer the campaigner for victims (of IRA) is a figure of ridicule. He is not the ideal victims spokesperson…not even-handed and politically motivated. But really it took decades to marginalise him. Because we perceive that we MUST be nice to victims.
Victims did not do well out of the Good Friday Agreement. No side actively involved in The Troubles actually WANTS a Truth Commission as it would be far too embarrassing for all concerned. The Eames-Bradley Report into Victims was ham-fisted and ridiculed. Victims are appeased by rather too many “groups”.
Which brings me to Ann Travers. An articulate victim from….leafy South Belfast. She resonates with the usual suspects and is flavour of the month on Slugger O’ Toole.
Ann Travers is the sister of Mary Travers (23) who was murdered three decades ago. Her father …a resident magistrate (judge) was shot six times but survived. The incident happened as they left Sunday Mass in South Belfast.
One of the IRA Active Service Unit ( Mary McArdle…then 19) was arrested at the scene. And subequently served fourteen years in prison. In 2011, Ms McArdle was appointed (by Sinn Fein) as a Special Advisor on a taxpayer funded salary of £70,000 per annum. The controversy caused her to be moved to other SF duties.
Understandably Ann Travers led the objections and today castigates the SDLP for not supporting Jim Allister (TUV) who wants the power to appoint Special Advisors curtailed. She goes too far when she claims that the SDLP is “sticking two fingers up at victims”. And she is simply wrong when she states that if she had joined a paramilitary organisation she would be listened to.
Leaving aside the rather obvious point that a South Belfast Catholic and daughter of a resident magistrate is an unlikely candidate for IRA membership…Ms Travers overlooks the fact that she was an articulate and unrestrained witness at the Assemblys Justice Committee just last year. She also overlooks the fact that just two weeks ago, she featured in a UTV documentary on “Collusion” (seemingly one of the IRA people involved in the killing of her sister was actually a paid police informer). And today Ms Travers was on the radio with Wendi Austin.
She does not strike me as a person who is not heard. Indeed …and I emphasise this…had any member of my family been killed, I would be as vocal about it. But we tend to treat victims…properly …with respect. Its a guilt thing too…they have suffered grievously and we (Society) are enjoying the Passivity. But when they make statements in the political arena, then they should be scrutinised.
The fact is that the Good Friday Agreement allowed a lot of people …including killers out of prison. People who served honourably and dishonourably in the British Army are also walking the streets of Britain. RUC men are living in happy retirement in Spanish villas.
We mostly….possibly including Ann Travers…voted for this in 1998. Of course the Creative Ambiguity permitted no serious debate. But what we see in 2013 is the logical outworking of the Good Friday Agreement….how it was implemented, ignored, amended and undermined.