Victimhood and pony riding

In the midst of the arguments during the Eames Bradley launch there was an episode where Cedric Wilson was told by Bob Morrow the DUP chaplain of Upper Bann “Cedric we were all victims.” The TUV have made an issue of this which is entirely reasonable. I am slightly unsure what Mr. Morrow means by this: if he was a victim, I am truly sorry for him. If, however, he means everyone here was a victim: there is a significant problem. I think in fairness to both Mr. Morrow and the DUP it must, however, be admitted that the idea that we were all victims would not be accepted by either the DUP nor probably Mr. Morrow. The DUP have tabled a motion condemning Eames Bradley which is to be debated this week. If Morrow really meant that we were all victims, it was probably simply a throw away remark during a heated exchange. He should not have said it, but trying to equate this with DUP policy, is maybe a little unfair. However, the episode did bring back into focus the notion that somehow we were all victims and I would submit that is one of these woolly falsehoods which should again be challenged.I know quite a few victims; Fermanagh has many of them. There are people whom I have met who had friends and relatives murdered, others who were physically injured or psychologically damaged by the dreadful things which happened here. I, however, cannot be described in any way as a victim. Prior to my marriage (long after the ceasefires) I was related to no victims, despite being almost as old as the troubles, none of my immediate family were killed, injured, traumatised or had their livelihoods damaged etc. As such by no stretch of the imagination could I self define as a victim. I am sure that some people who read this web site are genuine victims; however, I suggest many of us are not. Non victimhood is of course by no means unique to the unionist community.

A Roman Catholic woman from the city-side in Londonderry with whom I worked once recounted a story from her student days which I am sure will ring true for many on both sides. She was at Queen’s but a young man she was at school with (also from Derry) was at university somewhere in GB. He rang her during the first term and was recounting his discussions about Northern Ireland with other students. He had clearly been showing off about how tough a time his childhood had been (both my friend and the young man in question were from moderately privileged Derry backgrounds). My friend provided the perfect putdown saying with overwhelming sarcasm: “Oh yes it was awful: sometimes when the army were stopping on the bridge we were late for horse riding lessons.” The ludicrous reality, however, is that if we are all victims, my friend who was late for horse riding could, in the barmy Newspeak of Northern Ireland, be described as a victim.

It is worth remembering that, awful as the troubles were for many, there were others of us for whom they were not personally terrible. We may have regarded what was happening as utterly dreadful but it did not in any particularly major way impact on our lives. As such we were in no real way victims. I would further suggest that those of us who were clearly not victims should studiously avoid ever pretending that we were.

The reasons for this are actually fairly simple. The first and most overwhelming one is that for non victims to try to try to invent for themselves the status of victim is utterly unfair to the real victims and survivors. To pretend that the minor irritations to our lives during the troubles in any way compared to what happened to some people is extremely insulting. We may care deeply about what happened to our fellow citizens, however, we did not have the problems that they had and should not pretend that our minor irritations were anything other than trivial in comparison. An analogy might be with Ashkenazi Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK compared to those in mainland Europe during the Second World War. They clearly cared deeply about the plight of their coreligionists in Europe and would have had a grave fear that if Britain were invaded then they would have been in mortal danger. However, even when things were at their lowest ebb in 1940-41 the very considerable bulwark of Fighter Command and the Home Fleet stood between them and their potential oppressors. For such a Jewish or JW person to try to pretend that they suffered in the Holocaust would be extremely insulting to those who really suffered.

Another more political reason to avoid invented victimhood is that if we all pretend that we were involved in the troubles that can be a way by which we can, initially in a very limited way, begin to legitimise the perverse argument that we were all involved in a real war rather than a nasty criminal campaign. That can itself begin the road to legitimising the terrorists as “soldiers” rather than the criminals which they clearly were.
In addition if we were all involved in the troubles, then that begins to give some sort of credibility to the idea that we are all responsible for what happened. That of course is the sort of argument the terrorists and their cheerleaders would like to have us accept: they see it as reducing their culpability by trying to drag us down into the moral gutter which they inhabit. This must be resisted: individuals who committed no immoral or criminal acts should not be made to feel guilty in any way for criminal acts supposedly carried out “in their name.” My horse riding friend was as utterly innocent of any and all IRA murders as I am of any and all loyalist murders.

Of course with the “we must move forward” brigade there is always the next step which is, I submit, a powerful and utterly cynical reason for trying to suggest that we are all victims. If we were all victims and we were all involved then the logic goes that we are all responsible for “moving forward” and ensuring that these things “never happen again.” This set of moral and logical gymnastics can then be utilised to demand that we accept things like Eames Bradley and other clearly immoral ideas.

As such there are political reasons why those of us who did not suffer in the Troubles should say that we were in no way victims. However, overwhelmingly there is the moral argument. How dare any of us whom the Troubles had little effect on presume to don the mantle of victimhood? Those who had that mantle thrust upon them would, I am sure, much rather not possess it. For us non victims to try to wallow in some sort of pretended suffering is just another insult to real victims: people for whom the Troubles were much more than being late for pony riding.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m always very suspicious of people like Cedric who make a big deal out of the pain of victims when they are not victims themselves and, coincidentally, have political careers that, despite being rejected on a fairly consistent basis by the electorate, they wish to advance.

    I contrast this with the approach of people like Alan McBride who have dedicated their lives to working for cross-community reconciliation. I don’t know if I would personally have the strength to do what McBride has done. I’m not a Christian, but to me he, rather than the TUV ultra-Christian types, embodies my understanding of how a Christian is supposed to live his life.

  • Brian Walker

    With genuine respect, I don’t think you have much of a point here. You are addressing a fringe issue, which we might call the victimhood industry. For me it’s part of a culture which debases genuine victimhood. Just as mistaken in my view is the sentimentalising of victimhood and elevating it to such a status that we are all supposed to be paralysed by it. A new martyrology of the innocent is not much better than the martyology of the militant.

    Can I also repeat the obvious which an amazing number of critics fail to grasp, wilfully or otherwise? Eames/Bradley isn’t recommending spondulicks all round. Their largesse, which I’ve now said several times, is limited to the relatives of all the dead of the Troubles. Nothing for you and me, the unscathed Cityside pony rider ( not too many of those in my day) or injured former paramilitaries. You’re not the first to fudge this simple point.

    While victimhood is overblown, I still believe throwing opening wide the record of the Troubles is a right and a necessity. It will have uneven and probably unpredictable results. Why is this important? Because all of society was manifestly distorted by the Troubles, ranging from restrictions on social life, the atmosphere of underlying fear, the huge increase in sectarian hatred and division which even trickled up to the middle class. We all have a right to try to grapple with what happened and why, on the basis of as much evidence as possible. Sure, even as in full-scale war, plenty of non-combatants benefited and some were exhilarated. All were affected, even those who would deny it. I agree that doesn’t make them victims but it does mean that an attempt to confront the meaning of this wretched era was timely. It may even prompt some deeper explorations of history, politics and human behaviour that lie in the causes of the Troubles. If the State is open about the exercise, it will at least set a good example. Is it too much to hope for that Eames/Bradley may yet be addressed with an open mind, rather than an orgy of tiresome what-aboutery? The catharsis experienced by Michelle Williamson and Danny Bradley as described by Liam Clarke in today’s Sunday Times gives cause for some hope.

  • percy

    Turgon its very simple, Morrow said in public what senior unionists believe in private, but do not wish to lose votes.

    Its entirely “dishonest”.
    Clearly victimhood is a vote winner for both tribes.
    However the difference is Republicans don’t speak with forked tongue on this issue.

    Exactly this point was made today On Sunday sequence.
    Could you do an update?
    Unionists ‘dishonest’ on report

  • William


    Morrow said in public what senior unionists believe in private, but do not wish to lose votes

  • Comrade Stalin


    You’re outraged about the idea that unionists could be duplicitous ? These are the people who tell us how they are resolutely opposed to terrorism, and at the same time appear in public alongside convicted loyalist terrorists.

  • William

    Comrade Stalin……I’m outraged about nothing….I’m merely asking for evidence that the DUPe idiot Morrow was saying what Unionist Leaders were thing.

    As to ‘mixing with loyalist terrorists’, you may have noticed that we don’t elect them to represent us in the governing of our country. Can you say the same about the Repuplican / Nationalist / Roman Catholic community of Northern Ireland?

  • William

    typo: ‘thinking’…not thing

  • delta omega

    Hi Turgon
    I suppose the question is where do you draw the line. Does someone who lost a relative count as a victim even if they were not injured themselves? How close does that relative need to be?

  • ABC

    The Bob Morrow issue has already been addressed on another thread, still at least the TUV can rest assured that if their disengenuis statements don’t get covered elsewhere they’ll always have you to recycle them here.

  • T.Ruth

    I thought Turgon’s article first class and it gives Nationalist/Republicans an insight into the mind of those who lived through the troubles without doing anything to harm their neighbours or fellow citizens. It was a violent cynical fascist criminal campaign and any serious Republican reflecting on the cost to our community should hang his/her head in shame. What did all the violence achieve other than to drag the whole community down.
    A victim is someone who suffered but was innocent in moral and legal terms.Of course the suffering in families of IRA/UVf/UFF dead is real but the people engaged in terrorism knew what they were about and signed on to kill and maim.If they died or were injured in that immoral and illegal pursuit they do not qualify as victims.This attempt to cast the bombers in the same light as those bombed suits Republican attempts to legitimise their armed struggle and only serves to deepen existing division. Eames should hang his head in shame for being so gullible.

  • Jeremy

    The UVF started it!

  • panda bear

    Hey T Ruth, can I have £12,000 please. My parents were intimidated out of east Belfast before the provos existed by a mob of witless Paisleyites screaming about the IRA blowing up water supplies. Oh dear it was really the UVF.

    My mother god rest her never really got over it and her physical and mental health were shattered. We got to live in a god awful country town where no one wanted us, in a house that had been condemned unfit for habitation.

    Oh dear we were stupid enough to flee to where my father was from, incidentally the area in which the unionist gerrymandered rural council had spent the least money on public housing of any area in NI.(Too many taigs about)

    Most of us who grew up here are victims, one way or another, why dont the Brits pay us all?. I reckon having grown up listening to arseholes like William Mc Crea demands a few quid at least.
    Or how about a few bob for all those dads army cretins making smart arsed comments at checkpoints in the middle of the night?

    Shove your exclusive victimhood.