#Villiers, re-hashing Larkin and victim typologies

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If nothing else, Theresa Villiers statement on power-sharing contains some odd language (see the first quote Mick has cited here).  The nuances in “…there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative…” actually jar with the mother-and-apple-pie follow-up about about consistency with power-sharing and inclusivity.  A central tenet of democracy is that voting in elections removes ‘rulers’ and replaces them with whoever gets elected (which may or may not be the same people). The alternative, which may be the intended threat here, is direct rule. While this is probably more sloppy rhetoric, than anything else, to then say “…it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters…” is merely to invite ridicule (ask Richard Haass).

If one thing is abundantly clear, either from the creation of a northern government at the time of partition, or merely in the recent incarnation of an assembly at Stormont, functional government at a six-county level has never been achieved (you can backfill your preferred alternative of an united Ireland or UK solution here). Even Villiers’ own assertion about “inherent weaknesses” could be read as an implicit recognition of the failure of Unionist government prior to the introduction of direct rule in 1972. Whatever patchwork solution(s), if any, she may have in mind (only official unionist, nationalist and ‘”other” oppositions would seem to fit the criteria), it is hard to say how it would make Stormont seem any less of a transitional arrangement than it already does. Much of that is par-for-the-course for whoever’s Westminster desk happens to have the brief for the north.

Her comment on victims, though, is heavily laden with the same flawed logic that the Attorney General tried to apply. Her belief that there should be “…a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries…rather than the almost exclusive concentration on the activities of the state which characterises so many of the processes currently under way,” is simply a re-fresh of John Larkin’s complaint about how “we have very good tools, subject to the point I’ve made about the passage of time, for critiquing the state, but we don’t have them for bringing to account those who have committed offences against the state”. Neither statement stands up to any serious scrutiny and I’d previously dismissed Larkin’s as being “…absurd to the point of being completely misleading.” The Newsletter is reporting Victim’s Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, as being equally unimpressed by Theresa Villiers’ version.

What is really absent in both Larkin’s statement and it’s re-hash by Villiers is a failure to evidence any sense of victim typologies. Certainly, for some, there are differing attitudes towards the appropriateness of the inclusion of all fatalities under a single ‘victims’ category. But that, at least, evidences an implicit, if generally primitive, understanding that there needs to be a mapping of a diversity of responses to differing victim typologies. Recognising that there are different types of victim allows for the possibility of developing and curating appropriate responses to meet the different needs of victims and the communities around them. In many instances, indeed most, of those fatalities caused by republicans and loyalists (well, those officially outside the security forces anyway), there is little dispute over the circumstances of their deaths, notwithstanding the language used legitimising those acts and the hurt it can still cause. In many of the cases of those killed by the security forces, it is the actual circumstances in which they were killed that is normally at the centre of ongoing disputes with the state over the official versions of how they died. As a specific victim typology, they require a significantly distinct response, which is different and not higher up or lower down a hierarchy. Theresa Villiers statement wasn’t it.

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  • Old Mortality

    ‘Even Villiers’ own assertion about “inherent weaknesses” could be read as an implicit recognition of the failure of Unionist government prior to the introduction of direct rule in 1972′

    Not a failure to make decisions and legislate. I can’t imagine a Unionist government of that era not knowing what to do about welfare reform.

    By the way evidence is a noun, not a verb. Still it’s not such a ludicrous affectation as ‘critiquing’.

  • between the bridges

    Villers returning the serve…

  • aquifer

    John Larkin’s statement makes perfect sense:

    “we have very good tools, subject to the point I’ve made about the passage of time, for critiquing the state, but we don’t have them for bringing to account those who have committed offences against the state”

    The state killed far fewer people.

    What ludicrous typology can we invent that fiddles the books on that one?

  • Greywind

    Northern Ireland still needs transitional arrangements. The failure of the Haass talks makes that very clear. Lets not make the hasty assumption that the Assembly is anything more than a transitional arrangement. It is not full democracy, and cannot be unless there is progress on issues to do with the past. The leniency deals built into the Good Friday Agreement, and the current On The Runs controversy, demonstrate that measures of transitional justice operate in Northern Ireland. We are simply not ready for the complete package of democracy and justice, so transitional arrangements will continue, and will have to. Unpalatable, but realistic. Theresa Villiers’ comments about “inherent weaknesses” and “formal opposition” are correct but irrelevant. Relevance will only come with progress on the legacy of violence.

    We would benefit from a comparative approach. It now seems incredible, but a decade or so ago we were world leaders in exporting a peace process! The Basque community, Azerbaijan and others, benefited from us. Transitional democracy and justice has served others attempting to emerge from violent conflict. We need to learn how to make transitional arrangements work, and to admit that we don’t know. There is political deadlock, so the Assembly doesn’t seem to know. Eames / Bradley has been discredited and ignored, so the churches don’t seem to know. Paramilitaries flex their muscles with some success and flags and parades issues predominate, so local communities don’t seem to know. Its time to admit that we are only a society in transition and have not yet acquired democratic status. We will get there when we find out from others how they have made the journey. Now there’s a challenge to our political leaders – find out around the world what works, bring it back here, and do something different to break the cycle of recrimination

  • Raymonds Back

    Could someone please explain to the Secretary of State, to the British Government and to Unionists that there is a vast difference between the armed forces of a state commiting illegal murder and paramilitary groups commiting murder? Paramilitary groups, by their very nature, can commit no other type of murder than illegal: state forces can commit legal murder when they are in a recognised war, but even then they are subject to internationally recognised rules of engaement.
    [On a side note, for those who now term our conflict a war for their own reasons, could they please be thorough in their retrospective application of this terminology and recognise therefore that the hunger strikers claims were legitimate as they were obviously prisoners of war.]

    It is therefore completely understandable and desirable, and in the interests of the state itself, that a state should spend more time and resources on investigating illegal murder carried out by the armed forces of that state.

    It does not follow from this that there is a hierarchy of victims – every family which loses a memeber feels the same pain. But there is a hierarchy of crimes, and illegal murder carried out by the state is of much greater seriousness than murder carried out by groups which are by their nature illegal and which are not bound by any internationally recognised rules of engagement.

  • Charles_Gould

    RB I don’t think you need patronise IRA victims in that way, the McCartney sisters. Don’t forget the IRA leadership is now in the Government. They need to tell the truth too. Your comment is incredibly patronising towards those who were murdered by todays SF leadership.

  • Charles_Gould

    And I think it is important to say also, the victims of loyalist paramilitaries. We need actually more focus on victims as a whole.

  • Raymonds Back

    Charles – The armed forces of a state have to be held accountable to higher standards of military engagement than illegal groups. As a taxpayer, I pay for the wages of those soldiers, and those soldiers are accountable to the state. Please try to divorce the point I am making from the issue of victims; I am not patronising any victims. States get into serious trouble when they are seen not be in control of their armed forces. It is therefore essential for the stability of a state that illegal actions by its armed forces are investigated and dealt with. The same standards of legality and consequence do not apply to the military actions of illegal groups which are not representatives of a state.

  • mac tire

    “those who were murdered by todays SF leadership.”

    What a disgraceful, vindictive and scurrilous comment to make. Mr Gould, if you have evidence of that statement then let it be known. Why play the man when you can play the whole team!

  • Charles_Gould

    mac tire – its hardly a secret!

    Raymonds – don’t the McCartney sisters deserve to know some stuff from the SF team in government – i.e. who was it who killed their bro? Truth needed all round. No excuses.

  • Politico68

    Lads, thought you might like to take a listen to this, Irish Times Podcast about the upcoming Northern Elections

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/inside-politics

  • aquifer

    “illegal murder carried out by the state is of much greater seriousness than murder carried out by groups which are by their nature illegal and which are not bound by any internationally recognised rules of engagement”

    Yes the state must be accountable, but paramilitaries schooled to defeat prosecution and sponsored by other states should also face investigation, especially when they end up in government.

    Otherwise we risk a revolving door of armed gangs getting into government over the bodies of innocents.

  • socaire

    Dig the cool Americanese, Daddio. What ‘stuff’ do the McCartney sisters need to know apart from the fact that their ‘bro’ got into a bar-room brawl and was killed. Guilty parties tried to cover their tracks. End of story. As for the remark about the murderers in government,well, that’s fairly run of the mill holier than thou Stoop Down Losers Party that Mr Gould regurgitates ad nauseum.