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

Sister of IRA murder victim Mary Travers, shot once in the back while walking home from mass at St Brigids church Derryvolgie with our mum and dad Tom and Joan Travers. They were about 300yrds from our home in Windsor Avenue, Dad was shot six times, in chest, legs and neck (he passed away in 2009 with a bullet still lodged at the top of his spine). Mum was shot at 3 times, the gun held up to her head but it jammed. I was 14 at the time of this murder and like thousands of others in N. Ireland I have lived with the effects of such a violent incident for the majority of my life. Dad’s attempted murder was justified by the IRA as he was a Resident Magistrate. To me, he was a wonderful father and great friend. Mary, a primary school teacher at Holy Child Adersonstown, that day she was going over to St Agnes Church to bring her class to first confession, in preparation for their first holy communion. She loved her class of P3 boys, it was her first teaching job, she had just turned 23 at the time of her murder. I miss my sister every day and just wish for some respect, consideration and humility from those who still justify her murder, the attempted murder of my parents and all those who had family members torn from them. The HET asked for Mary McArdle’s co operation in their investigation into my sister’s murder. She didn’t even acknowledge the letter and now sits as Special Adviser for the Cultural Minister.

  • Ann, conspiracy and hypocrisy seem to be all too common in the world of politics and bureaucracy – probably in other spheres of life too.

    The 1998 Agreement gave London and Dublin the cover to carry on the wheeling and dealing necessary to protect their key political and economic institutions. If this meant elevating extremists to positions of power and influence at regional and local level then that was a risk they were prepared to take. The feelings or the needs of others, including survivors, wouldn’t have ranked highly in their calculations; the Victims Commission will probably be little more than an act of tokenism on the part of government.

    SF’s position in NI’s political realm at first glance would appear to be secure and the SFHQ leadership’s hold impregnable. Regulars on Slugger know that I keep my finger on the pulse of politics in Moyle District Council – and, yes, a pulse has been detected. Moyle may be a place apart but in the 2011 local elections SF only managed to attract 53% of the first preference votes that went to candidates from the Irish republican stable; independent republicans topped the poll in Ballycastle and the Glens. Perhaps the SFHQ grip is not as strong as it comes across in the MSM.

    It’s been a few years since we met; it was at an evening’s entertainment for senior citizens – and I’m now one of them! I was looking at some photos of the event earlier this year. Amongst the young entertainers that evening were a young man who subsequently became Young Citizen of Ireland, a young woman whose father became a SF councillor and another young woman whose father became an SDLP minister. Bearing in mind that I’m colour blind, there’s also a young lady in red …

  • Ann Travers

    Battlebus, I agree with you 100%.

    Mick, thank you for giving me this opportunity and allowing me a forum from regular journalistic reporting to express my view. I knew not everyone would agree with me and I not them, but if we can build a mutual trust and respect and agree that something positive must be done to help ALL victims then that is a start.
    I have asked myself many times, would I have been better off when I got the punch in the stomach re Mary McArdles appointment to have remained winded and stayed down. I’m glad I got up, although it would have been so much easier to have said nothing and accepted the status quo.
    The Victims Commission could offer mediation, but I feel victims/survivors would need some counselling to reach that point. I for example am not there yet. I still have a sense of fear.
    Questions have to be asked though, how come they don’t have more power. What do they really do? Could they not have some kind of intermediary system, where if a party wishes to appoint someone with a past they could contact the family before it becomes official? Not all families will object, we are each individuals with different needs and ways of dealing with things. I know some will say that is putting the power with the victims but what power has a victim really got? Speaking for myself the PIRA dis empowered me completely in 1984, their action affected every part of my life which I’m not prepared to speak about here. So surely now there is a duty of ownership for those actions and to give victims a little bit of respect?
    Nevin! Hi how are you! I remember those events well. I loved them! They helped distract me at a time when I had been sent away from home for my own safety and away from my family after the shooting. I hope you are well 🙂

  • “I remember those events well. I loved them!”

    That little group, Ann, was a bit like living in a parallel universe! Please feel free to get in touch any time through NALIL blog. I’m in contact with several past members via various forms of social networking. We had great crack – even without the dubious benefits of SMS and Facebook.

  • Mick Fealty


    You started of well, then veered straight into legal territory. Try again. If you want to take Jim on in the court room, be my guest. Just do it on your own blog and leave me and Slugger out of it.

  • Fick_Mealty

    I’ve avoided this thread, one because I’ve been too busy, and two…

    No you haven’t.

  • galloglaigh


    What I posted is the truth. It’s funny that the loyal posters on this site get away with a mirror image of my comments, yet republicans don’t. That is very evident. It would appear that you fear Allister’s legal background. That is no excuse to block comments – when you allow similar comments directed at republicans. I’ve pointed this out on numerous occasions, and it is a case of one rule for some, and another rule for others. I pointed this out a few weeks ago when a lady poster attacked the republican leadership. I see now from my comment history, that it has been removed.

    Mick, if you want to protect politicians, protect the politicians who are trying to move us all forward. Not those who wish to return to the good old days of unionist/loyalist mis-rule in Ireland!

    The appointment was wrong, and many Slugger republicans have agreed that. The murders carried out by the IRA gang were also wrong and should be condemned. That is non-negotiable. But the stance taken by unionism when cornered about their past, is one of attack. When you put a rat i a corner, that rat will bite.

  • Mick Fealty

    Fear can be a good thing. Every political leader in NI has access to my phone number. And I consider that a good thing. If you give me yours I will be happy to do you the courtesy of explaining my decision. But as far as this thread is concerned, this conversation is over.

  • galloglaigh

    Fair enough Mick, I’ll do that by email, but not in the next few days. I’m flat out and don’t have the time. I don’t mean to be a thorn in your side, but since I became a contributor to your site, I have noticed that when I give a perspective that mirrors that of others, I’m continually put into moderation. It should be an all round moderation, and not just for republicans. Happy New Year and I hope you have a fantastic 2012! And that applies to all on Slugger – friend and foe!

  • For everyone out there in Sluggerland but especially for Ann have a listen to Time Machine with Declan Rourke and friends on this link – it’s about 16m 30s in on Episode 2.

  • Alias

    Not really, Mick. There are exceptions to every rule but the rule still holds true in the general application of it. If you apply scientific proofs to politics you’ll be baffled by it. Rules are indispensible.

    Some folks will have voted for Mary Lou because they like her broad smile, but that doesn’t invalidate the rule that most will have voted for her on the basis of what her party’s policies can do to promote their particular set of vested interests.

    If you simply say that they could have voted for her for any reason and therefore you can’t determine it then you’re blindfolded and neither use to man nor beast.

    That’s not how it works.

  • Mary Anna

    Ireland has never had a taste of bully boys fascists and dictators yet. They will tell you anything for a vote- but you will never here the pain that they put 3057 families and 47,000 injured for power greed and jobs for the boys! At the end of the day they are corrupted full stop. God help them -for they have helped themselves big time!

  • derrydave

    Have really enjoyed this thread and reading the diverging opinions on issues which are very relevant to how we are going to move ahead as a society. Much of what I have read has challenged what I believe personally and politically, and that is always a good thing. Having Annes input has been particularly interesting (and challenging) in that it drives home the emotion and feeling which underpins many of the issues we face as a society.
    The key questions (to my mind) which have come to the fore are these – how much influence should victims have in how we deal with our present and our future ? and what do we as a society owe to the victims of the ‘troubles’ ?
    Having thought this through quite a bit in the last few days I have to say that I still believe that victims of the troubles (or victims in any society) should have no more influence than anyone else in how we as a society decide to structure our lives and how we deal with ‘perpatrators’ .Yes, victims should be listened to – however their opinions should be weighed in much the same manner as everyone elses – no greater or less weight should be applied. The basis of society and our belief system should rest not on emotion, but rather on logic and reason. I believe this very strongly, not just in relation to our own relatively minor squabbles here in NI, but also in relation to the bigger picture worldwide. As an example, victims in capital murder cases in the US very much have a say and an input into whether the death penalty is applied. I am completely against this for much the same reasons as I am against victims in NI having an undue influence in how we deal with cases in NI ( and how ‘perpatrators’ live their lives after they have ‘served their time’ ). As a society we must decide how we deal with people and situations – we have to decide this consistently based on reason and not emotion. Being a victim of a ‘crime’ does not in my opinion lend any more weight to your opinion. This may seem harsh, but such is life – bringing emotion into the decision making process leads only to further conflict and disagreement.
    A lot of people have talked on this thead about what we as a society owe victims – surely the only thing we owe victims should be the support ,on a personal level, to help them get over their loss ? Promising anything beyond this is simply pointless, as it leads only to dissapointment and dissillusionment. Our society is crammed full of people who are victims of the troubles in one way or another – giving undue weight to their viewpoints cannot be the way to decide how to structure our society going forward.
    No doubt I will receive a lot of flak following my posting of this, as it appears to be very cold and harsh – all I would ask is that anyone replying to this please tackle the issues mentioned (how much weight should the opinions of victims hold) rather than simply launch into lectures on the evil of republianism.

  • derrydave

    PS it is now after 4am over here in Singapore – so happy new year to one and all – here’s hoping for a great 2012 for everyone back home in Ireland ! Never forget that despite all our troubles Ireland remains one of the best places in the world to live in and to bring up your family in ! Slainte !

  • Mick Fealty

    I didn’t say any of that alias. Just suggested you had self falsified your own theory.

  • PaddyReilly

    Two points first, on a pedantic note.

    The Working Class, as defined by Marx, is that body of people who are, through adverse economic conditions, totally unable to better themselves, and are doomed to remain wage-slaves for ever. Mr Travers,though he undoubtedly worked hard to get where he was, was not this.

    Nor was he really a Magistrate: he was actually a Resident Magistrate, a title which has since been amended to District Judge, which is what a RM really is.

    It’s an interesting case. What appears to have happened is that the RUC wanted to infiltrate the PIRA with one of their agents, presumably the Mr JH who was charged with the offence. For him to rise high in that organisation, he had to do something spectacular, like kill a judge. Now for the RUC to allow a judge to be killed, even in what for them was a good cause, took a lot of consideration, and they eventually hit on one they thought they could spare, Mr Travers, who was a proven Catholic, whom they suspected might not overlook illegal doings by the RUC with the same enthusiasm as a Protestant would, and may even have shown a tendency to do so already, if Ann Travers’ report is correct. (This habit prevails even today: we may confidently assume that the person who shot Ronan Kerr was an agent trying to infiltrate the RIRA, which is why he has not been apprehended, Ronan Kerr being chosen as expendable because he was a Pape).

    So Mr JH sets off and shoots Tom Travers, and, as he wishes to prove his credentials as a ruthless killer who should not be messed with, his daughter as well, but there is a hitch in that Tom Travers recognises his assailant and survives to tell the tale.

    What could they do then but bring him to court? But once there, the Judge ruled that the evidence was inconclusive and that Mr Travers may have been mistaken in his identification, so JH got off.

    This of course is the biggest bullshit imaginable: when did the NI legal system ever let anyone off because the evidence was dodgy? And when did anyone doubt the word of a RM? If JH got off it was because the state wanted him to get off, because he was the State’s agent.

    This puts Mr Travers in the unenviable position of having his murder sanctioned by both the IRA and the RUC. That is the danger of being perceived as not being wholly from one side or the other. The philosophical question of who actually was responsible for Mr Travers’ death is thus thrown open to the floor, and everyone will doubtless choose their own favorite villain, on sectarian grounds.

    This leaves Miss McArdle- surely her name should have been Patsy- as the prime villain. Soon picked up- probably because the actual assassin told the RUC where to find her- she was found in possession of the guns used in the shooting. Guns are peculiar things, in that the guilt of all the previous owners is still attached to them: uniforms are the same. So for want of a more pro-active murderer, she
    filled the required position.

    If you serve a state which is only partially legitimate, due to deficient consensus, you will receive a protection which is only partially effective, and be given a retribution which is only partially satisfactory. There are plenty of people around who bear much more guilt for the death of Mr Travers, some of them drawing state pensions.

  • Alias

    Mick, it would only be self-falsified if I claimed that everyone who voted for PSF voted for them for the reasons I stated. However, I made no such claim, so no statement is falsified. Besides that omission, such a statement is too absurd to even be assumed.

    I think you can make assumptions about why people for one party as opposed to another one. A Tory voter, for example, is not likely to be a Marxist; and a SNP voter is not likely to be a unionist. Can you know why each voter in NI who voted for the DUP didn’t vote for the Shinners? Nope, but you can probably make a pretty good guess sans subject each voter to a truth serum (a drug that would produce a violent allergic reaction in most of those they voted for)…

    Now, to the other comment that the constitutional law should be amended to prevent those convicted of serious crimes from holding public office: who said that every Shinner that one could vote for has a criminal conviction? In NI, it is circa half of elected MLAs, but much less ex-convicts in Irish public office.

    One other point, it is not in any undemocratic to amend the constitutional law to disqualify specific candidates (Irish constitutional law is already so amended). On the contrary, it is a superior form of democracy since it involves the democratic will of all of the people of NI via plebiscite. The greater number may restrict the unwise choices of smaller numbers.

  • Alias

    “The key questions (to my mind) which have come to the fore are these – how much influence should victims have in how we deal with our present and our future ? and what do we as a society owe to the victims of the ‘troubles’ ?” -derrydave

    To answer the first question: the same imput that any other citizen is entitled to. However, the questions not asked are ‘Should victims of violent crimes entited to justice?’ and ‘Should their victimisers have a veto over whether they receive justice or not?’

    To answer the second question: how about justice?

  • derrydave

    Alias – agree. In the case of Mary McArdle however surely justice has been served and she should be free now to get on with her life without any further sanction ?

  • The SF leadership have shown that they are not insensitive to public opinion; that is why Catriona was retired to the back benches. They should realize their mistake and also return the Spad to the back office. It won’t make any difference to her income since, either way, she just earns the average industrial wage, doesn’t she?

  • Ann Travers

    Hi PaddyReilly, I used the term “working class” to show that he came from humble beginnings I thought that in the article it was self explanatory what I mean’t . I had a word deadline so sorry if it wasn’t clear enough. I know Dad was a Resident Magistrate which in the 90’s was changed to District Court Judge.
    The person dad identified as shooting him was aquitted (sp) on a witness identification technicality ie on how the witness identification took place. There were TWO gunmen and the second gunman shot Mary and attempted to murder my mother. Mary McArdle must know his name. The HET report also found the IRA gang went out that day to murder as many of the Travers family as possible. It was an eye witness who identified Ms McArdle and rang the police. He assisted the HET. There were a few witnesses to my sisters murder, unfortunately some are now dead.
    Ms McArdle could give us the answers to the questions which we need but she chose to ignore the HET letter and request for help. I’m positive others could give help also.
    I refuse to go down the “Lady Diana” conspiracy theory until I have concrete proof and not just what was reported in a paper no matter how much I trust the journalist. I have a lot of information about my sisters murder but I’m not prepared discuss it here or anywhere else until I have all the facts. SF and Mary McArdle could give me the truth if they so desired but the don’t and probably never will. So instead I’m left with trying to seek some form of justice for survivors in that they (the people who made us victims) will consider future appointments with a sense of humility and consideration. We all have to live together on this Island and I want it to be on a basis of trust and respect. So far I have little reason to trust SF.
    DerryDave you speak about Mary mcArdle doing her time. My family are still doing ours.
    Happy New Year everyone!

  • Ann Travers

    My thoughts entirely Joe.

  • Mary Anna

    Ann i am going to be wearing a white coffin -march for justice representing all our dead over 3057 murded 47,000 injured- during the past troubles on the 29 th of Jan 2012 . Would you like to join the march with me for justice?This is a peoples March -a way forward. I believe that we all have to stand up and keep going for all our loved ones it is the least we can do for our loss.Mrs o Loan she wants one organisation-i think that this is the way to go -this lady will help to put wrongs doing right. We all got to support her. British Stormont is corrupted how can there be trust and respect if the very ones who committed and incited crimes run it.

  • Ann Travers

    Hi mary anna, I am unsure at the moment if I can make it, (it s my son’s birthday) However if you email Slugger, I give Mick permission to pass on my email address and l can chat with you properly.
    All the best, Ann

  • Alias

    derrydave, with the exceptions of Somalia, Liberia and Nigeria, few countries think it a good idea to elect murderers, extortionists, smugglers, racketeers, armed robbers, torturers, money launderers, etc, to public office or to appoint them as special advisers to ministers. This dismal practice is unique to Northern Ireland in the Western World.

    Sorry, but it isn’t an innovation that other countries will be keen to follow. Excluding the aforementioned company, NI will continue to be unique in thinking that serious degenerates can ever be fit for public office.

  • Mary Anna

    Alias- this is what our history is all about here NI. Murder bombings and corruption- it is all about abuse of power – power corruption and control. When people abuse their power to gain political advantage – they do not care who or what heads that they stand on- ruthless people are greedy and they have a need to hurt and harm it is how they get things done all for power! Communities are imprison by silence. What is happening in British Stormont is that some of the hard liners are busy building their little empires- and they really are not interested who was killed injured.I believe that they do not want to rock the boat for a fear of losing control. I believe that the powers to be have turned a blind eye on the families -and dirty deals have been done for the sake of the egos ( the peace process) We all want peace -but we need justice for every one who wants it. It is wrong to deny the past – in my eyes if you rape a child -you just don’t say to this child put it behind you and move on. That is a crime in its self. We must always be the defenders of the weak and stand up for our brothers and sisters – brotherhood. Trust and respect for all humanity. When a child is abused you kill trust, its soul and how could that child ever respect a person who damage took away his/her soul and killed love. This is all for power and control of the most vulnerable.There is no difference than child rape and taking a life it is soul destroying.