The Victims’ Forum members were announced yesterday as noted below by Pete Baker. The Forum is to advise the Victims’ Commission and the Executive on the needs of victims and is also to be asked for their views on the definition of a victim and how the past should be addressed. The Commission will review the Forum’s work in June 2010. Most of the Forum’s members were either injured themselves or had family members killed or injured during the troubles. However, major controversy has surrounded the appointment of Michael Culbert a convicted IRA killer who spent 16 years of a life sentence in gaol for the murder of a police officer.
Jim Allister has denounced the appointment of Culbert: “The appointment of a man with Culbert’s pedigree is an obscenity which will be grossly offensive to many innocent victims throughout Northern Ireland. It is clearly yet an other attempt to sanitise the men of violence.”
as has Derek Hussey: “The appointment of Michael Culbert a former IRA prisoner who was sentenced to 16 years for the murder of a police officer is an insult to innocent victims from right across our community. People of all backgrounds suffered at the hands of terrorist organisations. To place on the forum someone who has committed murder on the behalf of one of those organisations is a calculated insult to those murdered, injured and bereaved by republican and loyalist terrorists.”
Members of the Forum also seem less than optimistic about it prospects with Willie Frazer suggesting that it has very little chance of it going anywhere; he also attacked the decision to go away to Scotland for a residential meeting. However, he has not yet at any rate, carried through his threat of July to boycott the Forum if it had former terrorist members: They can have as many terrorists as they want sitting on it because there will plenty of empty chairs, as no genuine self-respecting victim would give credibility to such a body. Raymond McCord (another member of the Forum) pointed out that: “They would not allow me to say in the pen biography that my son had been murdered.
Frazer is probably correct that it is unlikely that the group will agree on the definition of a victim. A possible way round this impasse would be if issues such as this are fudged with for example a victim defined so loosely as to allow everyone to hold to their own definition, in which case it is unlikely that the Forum’s views will be either united or remotely convincing to wider society. The likelihood of that is of course quite high as the Victims Commission itself has already been a fudge with four commissioners rather than the initially envisaged one.
Fudge and obfuscation has of course already been part and parcel of the Commission; as recently as this week the Commission has been accused of confusing victims with Seamus Heaney whose brother Denis was killed stating:
“The last few years have just been waffle, there hasn’t been a straight answer given to anybody on any issue that’s been brought up. I thought far too many issues were on the agenda, and it just seems to me it’s going to make the delivery of anything for victims much more complex.”
It seems unlikely that much progress beyond the waffle is going to occur any time soon.