Archive for April 24th, 2008

Can those who created the victims in Northern Ireland create a credible Victims Commission?

(Hearts and Minds, BBCNI )

It’s no surprise that the legalisation of our victims commissioners has stalled in political deadlock.
The dispute over victims is now the crystalllisation of the whole conflict into a single issue.

There will be no ideal future in which Peter Robinson will bounce grandchildren on his knee and tell them what a hard struggle for justice the poor Provos had. He can never be expected to empathise with the felt need of Republicans to kill and destroy. Nor will he share in their sense that it was all done for the best of reasons by the best of people.
And a white bearded Gerry Adams will not be telling his grandchildren that Unionist decency and principle saved Ulster from chaos. There is no point expecting him to share with Unionists in their sense that they were a community under attack for no other reason than that they were British, and that British is a wonderful thing to be.

Both sides see the past entirely differently. And the Alliance party proposals for running the victims commission expose those differences and put each side in danger of being upstaged by the other. That’s why resolution seems near impossible now.

To a unionist, bad things were done, mostly by republicans and the only good is that those things have stopped. To them, the understanding that there can be no hierarchy of victims, enshrined in the policy underpinning the original victims commissioner post, is merely cosmetic.
To a republican, treating all victims as equal, effectively treats all killers as equal and legitimates their armed campaign.
Suggesting that one of the four commissioners might be more equal than the others, dents that presumption.

A commission of four, broad enough to appease all corners, was a compromise before the impossibility of finding one commissioner to represent the concerns of all.
Now, ask who is to chair those four, and to speak for all, and the old unresolvable question is back.

More than 3000 ghosts haunt Stormont, unsettled and unsettling.
They made a political resolution harder and they continue to complicate it.
There is no hierarchy in the degree of confusion they create. Some are diehard Republicans, rolling in their graves, appalled at the compromise of ideology.
Some were good cops and some were bad cops. Many were children who, though they framed no political challenge in their lifetimes, dare us to forget them.
Their challenges are diverse and passionate.

For all that some of those who died had been trying to promote a war and others who died had been trying to stop it and some others who died had been trying to live ordinary lives without regard to the war at all, they are equal in this: they are all dead and they were all loved.
But if there is no hierarchy of victims, there is a hierarchy of killers.
There is one political organisation in this place which has approved far more killings than anyone else has, and recruits to its political purposes those who have done that killing, expecting them to be respected for that.

Is it right that the organisation which chose more victims than any other had equal standing in appointing victims Commissioners with some who chose none at all?
I suspect that that is the unvoiced question in the hearts of many who bemoan the continuing difficulties over appointing the victims commission.

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