Killers….Where Are They Now?

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… 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.

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17 Responses to Killers….Where Are They Now?

  1. Creative ambiguity was how it was sold. The deal was real enough. Sinn Fein know who they represent, and who they don’t. Apologies to those who may have already read this on Slugger, but you do Ms Travers a disservice. What she tells about the operation of politics here, is highly instructive.

    If I might be excused a pejorative metaphor (I realise it is actually an unfair one, but there is an essence here which is all too true) but the SDLP is like the pampered townie dog which is used to waiting for the scraps to be thrown it, and has become accustomed to picking bits off the floor when it decides. SF is more the hungry farm dog that knows food is scarce and that it needs to take it as and when it comes. The farm dog invariably snaps it out of the air long before it hits the ground.

    We once had a dog which found herself in that position on my Auntie’s farm. It was not long before she worked out what was going on and learned she would go hungry if she did not compete. In politics, people don’t want/need pets, they want working dogs that: 1, they can trust to do what they say they will; 2, and will help pay their own way.

    On one level the GFA marked the end of a closed shop. And although St Andrews was an attempt to rebalance back in favour of the new incumbents, it has not put an end to politics as some pessimists seem to think.

    Politics got competitive and both the UUs and the SDLP have simply found themselves unequal to the task. I’d almost be willing to predict that neither will be around (at least in the current form) in ten years time. If you cannot answer the question, what are you for, and who do you represent, then you should not be in competitive politics.

    Only the SDLP could have represented Ms Travers broader interests. Jim A will take kudos for going the extra mile, but no one seriously believes he can or will ever represent middle class Catholic women. The Alliance party privately briefed the media that it was a non issue, so they are seriously out of the loop too.

    People may not be telling SDLP MLA’s that this is a big issue for them, but there was a serious breach of trust here that I think will weigh on them. Besides the fact that it was a opportunity spurned to demonstrate that SF’s self interest does not extend to the aspirant Catholic middle class.

    Welcome aboard SS Malone, Councillor/MLA O’Muilleoir…

    • Pass the sick bag, Alice.

    • factual says:

      Mick do you see this as a failure on the part of the SDLP, a failure to distinguish themselves from SF?

      • Yes, but paradoxically I suspect this has happened because they’ve been *overly focused on making life difficult for SF at Stormont rather than making life better for people in the outside world*.

        If the cause is sufficiently great that means crossing the floor to ally yourself with someone like Jim Allister. I cannot tell which was uppermost here, lack of vision or lack of nerve. Probably both in some measure.

        They simply have not internalised the lessons of the Newry play park. Nor, I suspect, will they internalise this. Particularly when you consider that the victim was slaughtered at the entrance to the party leader’s own parish church.

      • What Mick means when he says the SDLP have not “internalised” this…is simply they have reached a different conclusion to Mick Fealty and his LetsGetAlongerist friends.
        Surely anybody disagreeing with Mick Fealty is…wrong.
        I suspect he will not “internalise” this.

      • factual says:

        FJH do you think that SDLP messed up here and what do you think the lessons of the Newry play park were?

      • If you read my blog on ” Killers….Where Are They Now? ” my opinions on Ms Travers, Ms McArdle and Special Advisors is pretty clear.

  2. factual says:

    You state “She goes too far when she claims that the SDLP is “sticking two fingers up at victims”.

    However what you do not say is whether the SDLP messed up here. It would have to ask SF for a petition of concern so wouldn’t you agree that it is SF not SDLP that are the key party in all of this. And wouldn’t you agree that it is SF once again coming to the rescue of the SDLP who have dug themselves in a hole?

  3. Factual,

    I don’t believe FJH is a horse at all. My guess is he’s a crab: never moving forward, preferring to shift sideways instead. Always quick to draw pinchers or dive under a rock at first sign of trouble.

  4. I hadn’t seen that aspect of it before Factual, but you are of course dead right.

  5. bangordub says:

    Although Mick’s comments are amusing regarding FJH, the point underlying this is the overarching one of definitions. Victims, Terrorists, Combatants? Factual, this is not a matter for political point scoring. It is a matter for recognition of the feelings and actions of those involved. I wasn’t so I am not qualified to judge others.

  6. hoboroad says:

    The TUV bill is nobody who has served 5 or more years in jail can serve as a advisor. So does that mean if someone had been sentenced to more than five years but was released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement could they serve as a advisor? What about someone who was sentenced to more than 5 years but escaped from jail?

    • anne says:

      if a person is released from prison the authorities are stating that the individual has paid his/her debt to society and has been rehabilitated. That is what serving a prison sentence signifies. The slate has been wiped clean
      Barring an ex-prisoner from some occupations indicates the authorities are telling lies or are vindictively making sure that individual’s debt to society is never/can never be paid.

  7. There’s a lot of fine detail in the bill (which is what has been preoccupying the SDLP front bench). But publicly it comes down to a split interest between the legitimate rights of victims and ex prisoners. That’s the provisional case I lay out in March:

    Note the text of the bill:

    “(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the code must provide that persons proposed for appointment as special adviser —

    (a) must be subject to the same vetting procedures as persons to be appointed as Senior Civil Servants to the Northern Ireland Civil Service,

    (b) must not be subject to further vetting procedures if they have been subject to vetting procedures in accordance with section (Determination of eligibility of special advisers by Commissioners (Amendment 11)).”.— [Mr Allister.]

    I also quoted Dominic Bradley at the time as saying that SF were “acknowledging in their amendments the point made in Mr Allister’s Bill that someone with a serious criminal conviction could be unsuitable or ineligible for appointment as a special adviser”

    I can’t imagine John Hume missing an opportunity like this… He would have formed the right set of words, slam dunked and taken the two points.

  8. in other words people are expounding arguments against principles within the bill, that have already been conceded by SF.

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