“It has obviously had a neuralgic effect on Ann Travers”

Neuralgia: severe spasmodic pain caused by damage to or malfunctioning of a nerve and often following the course of the nerve.

It is well worth listening to Mark Devenport’s interview with Martin McGuinness in yesterday’s Inside Politics on Radio Ulster… Not least for his line that “one of the big failures of the peace process has been the inability to find agreement on how we deal with the past”.

Quite. Although from Mr McGuinness’ choice of wording it is clear he locates the fault with the victim here. Tom Kelly, writing in today’s Irish News, has a different take from the Deputy First Minister:

The over-riding defence of those with a past appears to be –lets move on and in a very pragmatic way they are right.

Their lives have always been about moving on, if they did not, they would have to actually face up to the shadows that lurk around their every corner, such as walking a daughter up the aisle while knowing that others murdered by them never got that chance or holding a grandson as he takes his first step or celebrating a parents 70th while hiding terrorist secrets which deprived others of those special and golden moments of life.

They have to move on because their families who romanticise what they did in the troubles- without knowing its true vileness- comfort their old age. While the victims, must look at empty chairs and stare in photographs that lock the lost into a time capsule that never changes. The fact is simple- victims and their families cant move on. There is no cure for broken hearts.

Politically, this issue is going nowhere. Sinn Fein has a veto on any changes to the arrangements for special advisors. And besides, the appeal Ann Travers is making is a moral, a not a political one.

Sinn Fein would be well advised to stand their ground over any external pressure to dictate whom they can and cannot appointed as political advisors to their Executive team. It is an independent function no party should surrender to its rivals.

Although Sinn Fein has done itself little credit by using some of these appointments as little more than a private honours system.

Besides, as Kelly points out, there is another more human reality behind all of this:

Like it or not, Northern Ireland is a better place because of Sinn Fein’s Damascene conversion to constitutional politics. Some of its leaders have shown remarkable courage and as a society we must acknowledge that. Others are too quick to hide behind the dissident threat as if it were a real challenge to their authority. Yet as experience shows terrorists always go for soft targets. That’s why Tom and Mary Travers got shot coming from Mass or Ronan Kerr as he left his home or why devices are placed outside the Alliance party offices.

The killing of Mary Travers and the attempt on her Magistrate (the judicial equivalent of a traffic warden) father and her mother was just one of many cowardly acts throughout the Troubles. It was petty and venal, and looks to have been done for the freezing effect it would have on other Catholics minded to join the judicial process at the time.

And it took place at a time when the young solicitor, Rosemary Nelson (nee Magee) was just beginning her career, and was to become a celebrated defence lawyer within the criminal justice system, and who, fifteen years later, was also to be brutally cut down for her participation in the same judicial system as Mr Travers.

In deciding a Resident Magistrate was somehow a ‘legitimate target’ the IRA laid open the path to further regressive acts by others who were vicariously following a path opened up to them by this attack on the Travers family.

Finally, dealing with the past does not require any kind of forced consensus, but there should be some attempt at consistency in how it is debated and talked about. That’s as much the fault of a media that’s become hooked on big headlines (and big narrative) but inattentive to the smaller telling detail such stories require, as it is to the powerlessness of our new professional political classes to do anything about it.

The rest – ie, the dealing with all victims of the troubles in a manner that’s commensurate with their patient suffering – is down to the autonomous exercise of some degree of human decency.

On that last, just don’t hold your breath.

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