Where Victims Fit In

Aileen Quinton’s article from the News Letter last week about pressures felt by victims:

In light of the recent rioting, anger seems to be the emotion of the moment. I am angry too.

Angry about terrorism, prisoner releases, OTRs, RIR disbandment, parades rerouting, pressure to have terrorists in government and the suspicion that we will be increasingly maliciously misgoverned until we do.

All this with the odious thread of appeasement running through it
all. I am angry that the government has fostered a situation where
there is no distinction between right and wrong and where the only thing that matters is what you can get away with. However, we do not need to chart our path using the IRA’s or our government’s moral compass.

The rioting should not have taken place, primarily because it was plain wrong. In addition, the images on our screens will have widened the grin on the faces of our enemies, including the people who planned authorised and carried out my mother’s murder.

Over the years there have been four main things that have kept a lid on my anger, The first two are not wanting to do anything that would reflect badly on my mother and an attempt to consider others needs and sensitivity. The third was endeavouring to be responsible as to the potential outcome.

However the fourth significant one was not wanting to risk being lectured or criticised by other people for my grief and anger or for not coping. Most of the time I simply did not have the courage not to be nice. I have been involved off and on in trying to raise awareness of issues of murder and disaster victims. I made a TV programme which was recommended as a training video by a HO report into disaster response. I have given talks and written articles. One key issue I
highlight is the pressure victims can be put under to fit into what other people require of them.

We are treated as poor wee things when someone wants to dispense us a dollop of good and on the other hand expected to be brave and inspiring on cue. Our grief and our anger are things we must keep to ourselves. I had the distinct impression that as long as the veneer held, it did not matter that I was dying inside. I have said over and over again that one of the most important thing victims needs is to claim the right to their own feelings and that one of the best things that anyone else can do is to give them that permission.

As part of the victims’ network, I was recently took part in a 5Live radio program, with Dania, who lost her sister in the July bombing in London. She spoke about the pressure to be nice and the feeling
she had been given that her emotions were “wrong”.

I am angry and frustrated that even with all my efforts in the past and what I hear about advances in supporting victims after such events, Dania had to get the vital message that she was entitled to be angry, thorough a radio program two months after the event!

There are, of course many in Northern Ireland still waiting years after their lives have been shattered, for their needs to be properly addressed.

The support was not one-way traffic. Out of the blue Dania threw me by telling me how angry she was about the release of “that terrorist” . She could not understand why we were letting the Shankhill bomber out of prison.

It is so rare that anyone except “ourselves” cares about Northern Ireland terrorism. Our victims are an embarrassing reminder of something people want to pretend is not happening and indeed never happened. We are the after-taste of an exceptionally synthetic lemon meringue pie. By not accepting the concept of the cuddly Provos, Dania validated my anger.

Victims need to come together more often to find their voice and support each other. Others can feel threatened by this idea. Politically it is a potentially powerful force that may not prove easy to control or to buy off.

Also, some in the “trauma industry” can feel that this encroaches on their territory. If we all start helping each other, where does that leave them?

Victims should not have to tailor their needs to suit anyone else’s agenda or expectations. So you can look elsewhere for your docile, grateful, brave and inspiring victims. I am a “bad-assed” angry one and to quote a phrase used by others to us “get over it!”

  • Betty Boo

    Remarkable article although I would appreciate all victims of all violence. But I suppose that was the point. Not trying to tell those who suffered how to feel or thing about it.

  • George

    At the risk of sounding callous, victims don’t always fit in and don’t always have a coherent or reasonable thing to say.

    Just as there was, in most cases, absolutely no rationality in why they became victims in the first place, there is in many cases, no rationality in what the victims expect back from society.

    There are constant demands from victims, for example, from the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, for the police to be punished.

    Other victims will demand that the very same police be commended.

    This victim is “angry about terrorism, prisoner releases, OTRs, RIR disbandment, parades rerouting, pressure to have terrorists in government and the suspicion that we will be increasingly maliciously misgoverned until
    we do”.

    It’s as if these decisions are making her an even greater victim. If she was anyone else other than a victim, the answer would be “join the queue and be angry with the rest of us”.

    The fact that she is a victim doesn’t lend weight to the view that any of these decisions are wrong.

    While Betty thinks we shouldn’t try to tell those who suffered how to feel or think about it, victims don’t have God-given right to tell those who haven’t suffered as they have how to feel and think.

  • J Kelly

    could some describe who are the victims of the conflict we have just come through and why do their opinions gat elevated over all others

  • Mick

    George,

    Are you sure this is true:

    “…absolutely no rationality in why they became victims in the first place”

    It’s one thing to say you can’t conceive of a rationality, or even that it would not pass your own personal litmus test. But someone did do it. And in Northern Ireland it was nearly always done with some colour of political rationale.

    I would only further note that John Dunlop has said “it would be callous for a community to travel into the future and leave griefing people behind”

  • Betty Boo

    George,
    Maybe we can agree that no one should tell anyone how to feel or to think.
    What I wrote above was more about not being so single minded as Aileen for example was in her choice of victims. And quite frankly, I didn’t really know how to step without stepping on someone’s toes because it is not my intention to cause offence to someone who has suffered.
    And maybe I’m not the only one feeling clumsy.

  • red kangaroo

    Victims who have lost loved ones or had their lives shattered deserve respect and sympathy and it is the peace process that can help ensure we dont continue another generation of victims. Blame and suffering are a shared commodity in most conflicts

  • red kangaroo

    I was just re reading my post and realised it might have sounded like I was equating the suffering of victims with that of the perprtrators. Sorry to cause offence. It was a clumsy way of saying both communities suffered and lets work a solution for future generations

  • Henry94

    I am angry too. Angry about terrorism, prisoner releases, OTRs, RIR disbandment, parades rerouting, pressure to have terrorists in government and the suspicion that we will be increasingly maliciously misgoverned until we do.

    Are we supposed to take this seriously? It is fair enough to hold political views but to dress a manifesto up as victimhood is quite cynical in my view.

  • Jo

    “”it would be callous for a community to travel into the future and leave griefing people behind”

    ..this is very true.

    I see myself as being empathetic but its not at all clear, from my own view as a non-victim, how the processes of peace have succeeded in bringing along the victims.

    By the silence of many, one might assume that they are content. I think that a process, which I believe will help prevent more victims in the future, is worth my support. Aileen does speak as part of another group of victims and her views are at least as authentic as those victims whose profile is deliberately raised in support of a process which other victims simply don’t or are unable to accept.

  • Betty Boo

    Henry,
    I can’t think of one issue what hasn’t been dressed up to fit someone’s political gain.
    And it wouldn’t do any harm to listen even if you disagree with the manner/context it was said.
    Besides “dress a manifesto up as victimhood” is political and fair enough that would make it cynical.

  • George

    Mick,
    I accept the perpetrators felt they had a rationale, but many victims don’t see a rationale in why they became victims, even if they understand there was always a risk.

    I don’t believe in leaving grieving people behind, but I also don’t believe in letting them lead.

    I don’t want them to lead because, when we cut it all down to the bare bones, their quest is a personal one rather than a communal one.

    On a personal note, grief is an intensely personal thing and while others can soothe your anger and your sense of being wronged, only you yourself can confront and deal with your grief.

  • Mike

    Henry94 –

    Apart from the parades issue and possibly the RIR, all of these appear to me to be legitimate victims’ issues – albeit those which co-incide with a particular political viewpoint.

  • Macswiney

    Betty,

    Please elaborate on your statement that this is a “remarkable article”. It is clearly an article heavily-loaded with an undercurrent of political comment. True and genuine expressions from the loved ones of victims rarely contain the political bias and political aspirations of the victims families. It is perhaps the reason why many see the F.A.I.R. group and others as more political groupings than organisations which have a genuine aim of conveying the concerns of victims. I also think the media have a habit of promoting the plight of victims within the Unionist community. (Hence Mark Carruthers introducing two victims from that community to Father Reid and Rev Good during Mondays Spotlight programme). At least those particular victims have had the satisfaction (for want of a more appropriate word) of seeing the decommissioning of weapons which killed their loved ones. Many victims within the nationalist community (myself included) have not been afforded a single act of decommissioning by the loyalist terrorist organisations which killed innocent civilians for three decades.

  • Henry94

    Betty Boo

    I can’t see any useful insights in a one-sided approach to victimhood. To raise the parades issue in such a context is questionable at least.

  • Betty Boo

    Mac Swiney,
    I thought of it being remarkable because I have experienced victims well behaved but never that angry. Even if her anger goes down this road, that there are only victims of IRA killings. A much worn road, I know.
    I have read the Index of Death of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. And often I feel like battering the media and individuals with it for the way the portrait or try to sale it because there is so often, far too often not a word mentioned, what lies at the root of this conflict.
    Many try to gain from well picked aspects of it and therefore in my eyes abuse each and everyone. I would like to think that I will not that easily trapped, never mind me going around hitting people with books.

    But as we are in a post conflict process, we should as I said before try to listen to each other without jumping the gun (verbally).

    Betty

  • Ginfizz

    Henry 94, George and other Provo sypmathisers

    Over the last few days, anytime anyone has dared question the rectitude of the Republican Movement you lot have thrown a hissy fit, but you have no problem ripping the back out of a women whose suffering was inflicted by those self-same champions of peace and democracy.

    The moral duplicity of Irish Republicanism laid bare.

  • George

    Ginfizz,
    show me one place in the last few days where I have said what you claim I said about the Republican movement.

    If you can’t then please withdraw that comment and accept it as the lie it is.

    Or else, why don’t you simply feel free to discuss the issue at hand.

    I didn’t mention unionism or republicanism, I mentioned my views on victims. Nowhere on this thread did I deny this person hadn’t a right to feel as she feels, nowhere did I say she was right or wrong.

    It is not about what she was a victim of, it’s about victims.

    Victims are victims and I really resent the tarring you are handing out for your own ends, whatever they are. I hope they aren’t dupicitous and I also hope the feathers aren’t up next.

  • circles

    This is the second letter from Aileen Quinton that I’ve had the chance to read on Slugger – and while I do genuinely feel for her, I can’t help but get annoyed at the endlees axe-grinding, and it really is a desperate invitation to the worst form of whataboutery – comparing scars with everyone else who has suffered and trying to see whose is the biggest, who has felt the most pain.

    Of course I could write a similar letter, about how certain developments in the peace process have really been difficult to come to terms with. How questioning the rectitude of the british government was enough to evoke GFs hissing fit – never mind questioning the innocence of unionist politicians. But what are we to do?
    Are we to hold on to everything that hurts us? Are we to see ourselves as the victim who has suffered most?
    Better would be if we could see that we have all went through this shit together and that no family (none I know anyway) has come through it unscathed – but its over and we should do everything we can to get it behind us.

  • Betty Boo

    Henry,
    I suspect that a lot what we will hear and have over the time of the peace process will be to less or more extend one sided. It properly comes with the territory. The aim is a better understanding, so I hope.
    But if a complex conflict is portrait in a black hole mode, where real events just disappear to fit one’s opinion, the understanding and therefore resolving the cause of it goes out the door.
    And to this extend I do not disagree with you and Mac Swiney.
    Even if you try to get me off my middle ground.

    Betty

  • Henry94

    Betty

    The problem I think is that when people are asked to treat all victims equally they take it as meaning the same as treating all perpetrators equally and resist what they see as a relativist approach.

    I can understand that and I can understand a refusal to play the role of the forgiving victim trotted out to endorse the process.

    We need straight talking on the question and Aileen Quinton’s article is certainly that.

  • Betty Boo

    Henry,
    I agree and my clumsy attempts to bring it over is a testing of the ground on unknown territory.

  • TAFKABO

    It’s a difficult issue to be sure.

    I can understand why we all feel that some people who lost their lives could be considered to have put themselves in the position where this happened, regardless of which “side” they were on.

    But it should be possible to set aside those who have died and agree that everyone who has been bereaved is an innocent victim, and as such deserves to be aknowledged and made to feel that their voice is heard if they want to express their hurt.

  • Yoda

    Have to agree with George’s assessment.

    I think it’s fair to suggest that most victims’ goals are intensely personal (although they have been notable exceptions). I honestly cannot see how they would not be. For these reasons, victims leading the political charge is problematic.

    Often, victims are held up as mascots for an ulterior political end. I don’t blame people for making political hay either: that’s politics.

    However, I do think that there should be a forum for victims to grieve and be heard; to give them strategies for coping and protecting themselves, and most importantly, to stop them festering. Political and community leaders would need to be circumspect dealing with the narratives produced there.

    The relatively low numbers of casualties in Northern Ireland’s slow burning civil war did not produce the numb, brutalised stupefaction found in conflicts with much higher numbers of casualties. That, coupled with the fact that the containment strategy employed in NI was largely successful, produced a sort of “hot box” in which casualties were received and interpreted. I’m inclined to believe that the residue of this climate persists: that’s why the dead still so easily become totemic; potent sectarian symbols to bind the tribe, even if they are from the “other” side. Every death is scanned for sectarian traces, but sometimes it’s just non-sectarian or non-political violence (however, even the suggestion can make the one suggesting it politically suspect). Collapsing the two types of violence is not always constructive: it tends to perpetuate a sectarian interpretation (and cycle) of violence.

    A scrupulously equitable space for discussing victims’ experiences (the Victim’s Commissioner is a good start) would perhaps offer the best way of examining and understanding (and finally, maybe, changing) how violence is interpreted and constructed in NI. Violence simply won’t stop: no society has managed that. But I think exploring the issues like the ones mentioned might help NI mature by developing strategies for dealing with death and grief in a non-sectarian manner.

  • Aileen

    Henry

    “Are we supposed to take this seriously? It is fair enough to hold political views but to dress a manifesto up as victimhood is quite cynical in my view”

    As a matter of fact Henry (and of course you will not be aware of this) the motivation for the article was the meeting with Dania and it was before the rioting. Unfortunately I knew that if I had put in an article about the right to anger so soon after the rioting (this was put in last week) it would have been read as justifying it. I was actually miffed to have to use up some of the word limit for these peices to condemn it. I had much more to say about needs of victims.

  • curious

    I have every sympathy with those who lost loved ones, often in the most horriffic of circumstances, however no matter how cruel or callous this sounds, we have to move on. The dead are not coming back and we have to move on to create a new society: one that is free from sectarianism, prosperous and built on the principle of equality – we owe it to our dead loved ones to ensure that the horrendous fate that befell them, as a result of the hatred that exists in out society, is not revisited on those they left behind.

  • Aileen

    Curious

    that’s all well and good but the problem is that there seems to be very little done to learn the lessons of what support victims of atrocities/disasters need. This goes way beyond terrorism in NI. The dead are gone but the victims are still here.

  • looking in

    Ginfizz – victims suffer both ways…all that my partner a could say following IRA decom. was “…when will the loyalist gun that shot me be decomissioned?”

    Other than that she has moved on, as Curious says, Life moves on. I, as an outsider have to admire that when i contrast that forward looking outlook with the woe is me, poor me sentiments that too often characterise victims associations etc.

    BTW she had family members killed, was burnt out of home etc etc etc.

  • aquifer

    Victims have the right to express anger, and must be entitled to more incoherence than perpetrators are. They were too often silenced altogether.

  • Henry94

    Aileen

    Can I firstly offer my condolences for your loss. I can only imagine my own reaction if I had lost my mother in such circumstances and I have no criticism of yours. You have every right to be angry.

    Your article was welcome in that it at least addresses this most important question and I’m glad to have the chance to ask you directly about it.

    From a nationalist perspective it seems one-sided. Can you see a basis for looking at the needs of victims in a way that all sides can endorse or is it more realistic that each side looks after its own.

    The introduction of an issue like parades into an article like that also tends to politicise it. Do you accept that other victims may have a different take on the parades issue.

  • Aileen

    Henry

    It’s a legitimate question. I hope that you will access the thread again to get this answer.

    I would point out though that it was for a unionist audience which is what the Newsletter caters for. Also the fact that Dania out of the blue spoke of her anger about the release of Kelly was something that I wanted other victims to know. This was the best way of telling them.

    The meeting took place on the afternoon on the day after the Northern Ireland win over England :0) Even if she hadn’t mentioned Kelly, I would have written the article. I have been involved in raising awareness of the issues of victims of traumatic events from the moment that I realised that my response to it had echoes in that of other “victims”. I have been giving talks writing articles (non political) and made a programme for BBC” which was recommended as a training video for disaster response. I was ANGRY that after all that Dania did not get the support she needed.

    As I said if I had put the article in about the right to anger it would have been seized on as excusing the rioting. Making it clear that it is possible to be angry about the things that the rioters are probably angry about as well puts the condemnation in its context. I would draw your attention to the fact that so much of the debate on Slugger recently has been about the “failure” of unionists to condemn the rioting. Here a unionist did and that was ignored.

    As regards “sides” I consider myself as having more in common with the victims of Greysteel than with the perpetrators.

    Aquifier cheers!

    Most of the work I do on victims issues

  • Aileen

    oops
    sorry about that phamtom phrase hovering at the end. I’m useless at editing in comment boxes 🙁

  • bilk234956

    Victims have every right to be angry. Firstly anger directed towards those who made them victims. Then towards those who treat victims as part of the problem.
    For far too long victims issues have been ignored. They are a very important part of the healing process in Northern Ireland, they are not part of the problem, but given the right circumstances, could be part of the solution.
    People from all sides of the political and religeous devide in Northern Ireland have suffered at the hands of terrorists. Small wonder then that prisoner releases, and other issues anger them (The victims) more than others.
    Aileen has given us an insight into the heart and mind of “A Victim”, we should grasp the oppertunity to try to understand, not to score political points.

  • Betty Boo

    Out of interest, if there would be a forum of reconciliation where all victims of the trouble would be able to speak to their perpetrator, would it mean including official forces like the British Army or are we only talking about victims of paramilitary organisations?

  • bilk234956

    Certainly when I speak of victims, I only include those innocent victims who died or were injured at the hands of terrorists. That would include victims from both sides of the devide. If you wish to include those who were killed in an act of terrorism, whether by the security forces or by their own bomb, I do not include these people as innocent victims. One cannot be a victim of ones own crime.

  • Betty Boo

    Bilk,

    If combatants kill each other in war like action then they can hardly be considered as innocent victims. But why would you not include people who got killed by official forces who were not members of a paramilitary organisation, did not carry weapons nor posed a threat to them?

  • bilk234956

    Sorry Betty, I wasn’t sure where you were coming from. Of course I include all innocent victims, those killed by the security forces in error, or by rogue members of that force, are entitled to our support. And the same respect as all other victims.
    The problem I have is that some are suggesting that dead bombers and murderers should be included in any peace and reconciliation forum, as victims. Here I draw the line, and repeat, the perpetrator of a crime cannot by any stretch of the immagination be considered a victim.

  • Betty Boo

    Bilk,

    I know I stretch it a bit far on a worn road as I was thinking of Derry, young men getting shot from the city walls just for being male, catholic and therefore possible rioters and in particular Bloody Sunday. And it seems it is not only my understanding that this day was the point of no return. No matter how futile it is but I can’t help wondering what if … If the pain inflicted that day would never been caused then young men and women would not have queued to join the IRA for “If we get shot anyway we might as well shoot back” – wrath and went on taking lives themselves. And I do believe that many of those wish too it never had happened because it forced not only their own lives but Northern Ireland into a deadly spiral of violence, the end of which we are now approaching. It took a very long time and far too many lives for what was created in the build up to Bloody Sunday and finalised within a few hours to run out of breath, the legacy of hurt and suffering will still be felt by generations to come.
    If you exclude anyone from a Peace and Reconciliation Forum you are not just excluding the roots of this conflict, you are indirectly asking for a re-run.
    As the British joint Bush to liberate Iraq by force and means of violence then they were repeating mistakes of the past, ignorant to consequences and find themselves now again in a situation where people going about their daily business get blown up on the streets of London because people going about their daily business in Baghdad lost their lives through the military intervention of the British.
    “…the perpetrator of a crime cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered a victim.”
    And here we go again winding our way up the loops of a deadly spiral as violence inflicted causes violence to rupture, shattering lives with hate and mistrust in its tail for we won’t face the origin of it all.

    Sincerely,
    Betty

  • Aileen

    Bilk

    cheers!

    Betty I’m not saying that you have excused IRA murders because on Bloody Sunday, but if what you have suffered can be used as an excuse for being a murderer there would be a hell of a lot more muderers than the, far too many, that we have had.

    For myself any T&R forum could never take the place of justice. Also as regards the “reconciliation” bit, I have no wish to be reconsiled to anyone unrepentant murders of whatever religious persuasion or allegance.

  • Betty Boo

    Aileen,
    Thank you very much for responding.
    I have every reason to believe that I would not be forgiving towards individuals who carried out or authorized the killing of someone I care deeply for. And it wouldn’t matter either who or what they are. But I haven’t lost a loved one this way and I’m aware that it is easy for me to generalize about the cause of violence from this safe distance.
    Your article and the resulting discussion has been very important to me because I sincerely believe that these issues need to be addressed and resolved to prevent anyone else and yes especially me from going through what you have suffered.
    You are right when you say that suffering should not be used as excuse for violence and murder. But it should never have been inflicted in the first place and it should never have been used as means to achieve certain aims. But it was and caused such hurt that it created an eye for an eye conflict. I am very worried that if we don’t look at how exactly and why it started that it never really will come to an end. History only repeats itself because we repeat mistakes we should have learned from.
    A peace and reconciliation forum does not replace justice but it would make a good start. Enough people die unnecessary as it is. On a day were four of five killed in a car crash are buried here and as a mother I wish that as many as possible causes are removed for good which result in loss of live.

    Sincerely,
    Betty

  • Henry94

    Aileen

    Thanks too for your earlier response to my points.