Eames-Bradley: A Question of Hierarchy

Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the1993 Shankill bombing, works for the victim support group WAVE and supports the One Small Step Campaign. A recent article by him questioning the Eames Bradley support for dispensing with a ‘hierarchy of victims’ ethic for the Belfast Telegraph is replicated below the fold:By Alan McBride

Having been involved in the Victims and Survivors sector for the past ten years, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard it said, “there can be no hierarchy of victims” – I have even said it myself on more than one occasion. At one level the statement rings true – Robin Eames, speaking at the launch of the Bradley Eames report, said that frequently during the consultation period on dealing with the past, people of all persuasions acknowledged that “a mother’s tears are all the same”. Few could disagree with this sentiment and I do not intend to undermine that.

Indeed I have often acknowledged, in my own case of losing my wife in the Shankill bomb, that the mother of the bomber Thomas Begley hurts much like myself. In fact, it could be argued that her pain is more acute, due to the fact that she not only lost a son but that she also has to live with the knowledge that her son killed nine other people. That being the case I believe Mrs Begley should receive all the help society can give her to help her deal with her tragedy; but I have always stopped short of suggesting that that should be monetary in nature. There is something about money that changes the dynamic of how we view situations like this. For example, the suggestion in the Bradley Eames report, that the family of a person who was killed planting a bomb should receive the same ‘recognition’ payment as the families of those that they killed, is just plain wrong.

It’s wrong for all sorts of reasons; but primarily because in the eyes of most people it appears to equate the death of a perpetrator with that of their victim, and that brings me back to this question of ‘hierarchy’. It’s the ‘elephant in the room’, the issue no one wants to address; unsurprisingly our fledgling Assembly appear to have side stepped it, preferring instead for the Victims’ Commission to deal with it once they set up the Victims’ Forum. Whether we agree or not, a ‘hierarchy’ exists in the sense that not every one was guilty and not every one was innocent.

A lot of what happened in the Troubles was wrong and should never be dressed up in “we have all hurt and we have all been hurt” language. This only serves to antagonise the families of those who were truly innocent, and results in the sort of angry scenes observed at the Europa recently. I am of the opinion that it would go some way to healing the hurts of the past if we injected a little bit of honesty into the process. Maybe it could be “one small step” to acknowledge that we are not all in the same place in relation to how we have been affected by or contributed to the conflict. Some have caused more hurt than others and some been more innocent.

That is one reason why I am of the opinion that we should not simply blame everything on the paramilitaries: yes they were the principal contributors to the killing, yes they are responsible for what they did; and yes they should step forward and accept personal responsibility for their actions, instead of trying to rewrite history; but they were a symptom of our conflict, not the cause, and it suits many dark agendas to try to obscure that. Others played a less obvious role, be it the security forces whenever they stepped outside the law, the churches or mainland politicians whenever they turned a blind eye, local politicians who made careers out of maintaining the ‘two tribe’ mentality, and anyone else who engaged in sectarian thinking of any kind. This does not mean that we are all equally responsible for the death and injury, but we certainly need to acknowledge that we all share some responsibility for helping society to move forward.

I suppose this is where I part company with some of the protesters seen at the Europa. Yes there is a ‘hierarchy’ of victims, a ‘hierarchy’ of right and wrong if you like, and as such I think that should be stated. But there can be no ‘hierarchy’ when it comes to meeting peoples needs – a mother’s tears are all the same, and as such they should receive whatever help they need in order to move on. That should be the focus in any mechanism designed to deal with the past.

First published in the Belfast Telegraph///

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty