One of the strange things about talking about the Troubles is that we get into that “Troubles According To My Da” (Martin Lynch) territory. Ask any man of say sixty-one (which I coincidently am) about the Troubles and we talk about the big events and then we start with the handful of events which we were almost victims…and then we seem to slide into the lighter side of the Troubles.
Take a woman I know. She recently turned fifty. Forty odd years ago, she was outside playing in a West Belfast housing estate and she found an odd looking object which she brought home to show her mammy and daddy. And her Daddy had to get the bomb disposal people because….it was a hand grenade. How we laugh about that everytime she tells the story. I mean it was only a hand grenade and well it hardly kill ya. Maybe blow your hand off. Or blind you. But not actually kill you. Welcome to West Belfast circa 1973.
Low profile victimhood. People talk about Truth Commissions but thàts for “big” things. Little things …comparative little things …got to us all. So when the latest do-gooder in the Conflict Resolution industry says that we must give voice to victims, I want to throw something heavy at the television. For the point is being missed. I first heard that “hand grenade” story thirty years ago. VICTIMS DO NOT NEED VOICES. THE PEOPLE WHO NEVER LISTENED NEED EARS.
In the early 1970s…I had to walk home one night thru sleet and snow and found Larry McCoubrey reading the news. He mentioned my workplace. ” Did you know about that?” asked my mother.
” It WAS me Mammy”. The Official IRA came a calling and one of the Sticky Bastards shoved a gun into my mouth. Forgive the French but he said that he would blow my fucking head off. In 2013 my head is still very much intact.
But here is the really odd thing. It happened about 1pm. I arrived home…walking at 6pm. Nobody said “take the day off”” Can we drive you home” “You should get some counselling”, “you should speak to a lawyer”.
But I did get a Good Cop, Bad Cop interview, make statement, prepare to go to Court….as it happened the Sticky Bastards pleaded guilty and I did not go to court. But it set in chain the procedure that led to my family leaving Belfast. Am I bitter about it? Oh yes…especially about the Official IRA whose greatest achievement in Irish History is to airbrush themselves out of it.
I left that job about six months later. A nervous wreck. And I was unemployed for six months but never signed on or got benefit. Until a few years back I used to get a letter from the National Insurance people to remind me that my insurance contributions are incomplete and I could buy the ones I missed.
Typing this now, it seems hard to explain just how bad things were in 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974…nobody knew the rules. Or how to get redress and compensation. Few people made complaints to the British Army about harassment or verbal abuse. Nor was there any understod way of seeking compensation for incidents. It was really the late 1970s before people really understood procedures and the lawyers moved in. And when the lawyers moved in and the Army gave over primacy to the RUC, fewer excesses happened.
A few years after I got married…say 1983 or 1984, I was talking to someone about the Sticky Bastards and the gun in the mouth thing….and he gave me a phone number for Criminal Injuries people in Queen Street in Belfast.
So I phoned them.And the lawyer laughed…LAUGHED when I answered the question about when this happened. Ten years ago!! HA HA HA. There were time limits…30 days for “injury”.
Now I dont think this is unique. Small and even medium level victimhood went unrecognised, untreated, unpunished and uncompensated. So essentially, those of us who lived thru that time are a bit cynical of the whole Truth, Victims, Compensation, Reconciliation thing. Simply put…there will be no way that the low level victim who just muddled thru will ever be brought into the Process.
There are victims from those years who will just have to do what they did then. Move on. And some of us might reasonably think that high profile victims did the same.
There are people out there who did well out of the Troubles. Financially. Careers. And as for Victims…some got justice. Some did not get justice. Some got compensation. SSome did not get compensation. Some moved on. Some did not.
The greatDividing Line is not that Victims are or are not “innocent”. The line is that some were treated well and others were not….and that even some did very well.
This should not divide unionist people and nationalist people. Because we all know it is true.You dont have to be a unionist to know that ending up as a Sinn Fein advisor on a Civil Service salary of £90,000 per annum is actuallly quite a good deal compared with the way that some Republican paramilitaries have ended up. And you dont have to be a nationalist to think that severance packages that RUC personnel were given were ridiculous. It should not be partizan.
Sinn Fein cannot speak out on those lines. Nor can any unionist politician. But SDLP CAN and maybe SHOULD.