Maltreating victims may condemn us to the folly of repeating the past

So here I am seven months on from the appointment of Mary McArdle as Special Advisor to the then new Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín . That appointment – of the only person convicted of my sister Mary’s murder – caused untold stress both to me and my family.

While Sinn Fein seemed not to see a problem with it, it sent us a strong signal that what our family felt didn’t matter, just as it didn’t matter to them that our family had been torn apart on that fateful sunny Spring morning that Mary was murdered.

Instead Sinn Fein clearly desired that the whole matter would go away. By refusing to listen to our pleas and ignoring the deep sense of hurt the appointment of Ms McArdle had caused, they chose to sweep the whole matter under the carpet.
For us this raised questions on how the past might be dealt with in a fair, equal and respectful way.
At the time I thought, foolishly as it turned out, that matters had progressed so much, that as a sister of one of the IRA’s victims I would be listened to. Sensitivity and humility shown, the woman convicted of Mary’s murder would then stand down from her discretionary post.  

After all, my sister was a completely innocent victim, murdered while walking home from Mass; her only crime – in the eyes of the IRA – was to be my father’s daughter.
My father was a Catholic of working class roots who sat on the bench at a time when Sinn Fein and others were arguing that discrimination against nationalists was rife.

However what better way to implement change than from the inside; something my hard working father, a dearly loved family man, chose to do.

He was the type of man who tried to help all, regardless of class or creed. He was a fair man and believed in giving people a second chance in life: something he tried to do in the  discharge of his duties in the court.
The Eames/Bradley report spoke about victims’ rights, truth, reconciliation and forgiveness. These are fine words. And yet surely they are rendered meaningless when those responsible for so much hurt remain so unwilling to show the least humility when confronted with the spectres of their own past?

Rather we get a retreat into numbing formula, saying “we feel the pain, we were all hurt and the reason we inflicted this hurt was because…” Such attempts to justify their campaign of murder belittles their victims and the memories they have of their loved ones.

To know someone hated your father/mother/brother/sister/family so much that they still try to justify that campaign is hurtful beyond belief.
We are all aware of the impact of institutional abuse on victims and their suffering forty years on. And we accept this as a fact that needs to be addressed. Quite rightly so.

But what makes what happened to us in the seventies, eighties and nineties any different?

Why are victims/survivors like me and my family expected to “move on” and “just deal with it”? When do our voices get heard, our concerns addressed and afforded the respect or sensitivity they deserve?
Martin McGuinness spoke on his campaign trail for President about how he joined the IRA as an eighteen year old at a time when he was made to feel like a second class indeed a third class citizen. It is ironic that today, that is just how I feel.

My words fell upon deaf ears in Sinn Fein. As a victim my voice wasn’t listened to.

Instead, my sister’s murder was described as a mistake, yet justified. My father’s attempted murder was never condemned. Even now, whilst holding office under ministerial oath at Stormont, Sinn Fein believe it would have been okay if I had also lost my Dad that day.  
While these justifications – and their utter lack of humility – remain, there will also remain an undercurrent of unease and lack of trust within the wider law abiding community. Perhaps that is the intention?

But there is no need in today’s society and new dispensation for those with blood on their hands to be appointed into high profile positions of authority.

Even if it started as a pragmatic quid pro quo, since without the co-operation of the IRA the killings might not have have ceased, surely it is now time for fresh faces not associated with crimes of the past to come into the fold?

I may not agree with Mary Lou McDonald, and Sinn Fein’s wider policies, but she doesn’t carry such baggage. So I don’t feel that deep sense of sickness and abhorrence when she calls for people to “be held responsible” and “take ownership for their actions”.

If only Sinn Fein would accept the benefit of the advice they give so freely to others.

Over nearly forty years, so much dreadful death and destruction was visited on all sides.  It has been with horror that I have listened to crimes carried out by the British Army.

However is it necessary to not use these to justify the brutal murders carried out by republican and loyalist paramilitaries?
History must not be re-written simply to diminish consciousness of the past or massage the political egos of the present. We must give victims a true voice. Not only so we can listen to their needs but also to hear them without also belittling their pain.

Reconciliation and forgiveness is possible when respect and proper regard for truth is shown. It is essential that we have a future where we feel comfortable with all our neighbours.
The Victims Commission must move to a position where they are able to speak up for victims, and afford them a voice. They are not in that position currently and, at least in our case, have done nothing substantially to help our family.

Let’s not delay any longer, when everyone speaks of a shared future the victims/survivors must be listened to, their pain acknowledged and acted upon in a way that is meaningful and healing, they surely deserve at least this.

The undercurrent of lack of trust and unease with our neighbours will remain, making it impossible for true reconciliation regardless of how far we progress politically.  Who could stomach another 1969 in the future

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