Sam McBride from the News Letter has a series of articles interviewing Kathyrn Stone the relatively new victims’ commissioner in which she has expressed views likely to undermine her role as a spokesperson for victims.
Stone’s problems seem to come from refusing to state an opinion on some of the most basic of issues relating to victims.
Ms Stone declined to say whether the IRA, which killed 1,706 people, or the UVF, which killed 430, were terrorists.
When asked whether, based on her experience of meeting victims, she believed that the IRA were terrorists, the commissioner paused briefly and said: “Well, and again the difficulty for me is that I know there are some people who believe absolutely that they were. There are others who believe absolutely that they weren’t.”
Asked if she did not have a view on the issue, Ms Stone said: “My job is to represent the views of victims and survivors. Some victims absolutely believe that they were; others believe that they weren’t.”
When again asked whether she believed the UVF were terrorists, Ms Stone just said: “Some people would say they were; others would say they weren’t.”
When asked if she could understand why there will be victims who will read her words and be apoplectic with rage that she cannot say that a UVF man who shot a Catholic in the back of the head was a terrorist yet she is supposed to represent victims’ views, she said: “I’m also supposed to be representing the views of other victims and survivors as well.
“I absolutely appreciate that the things that happened here had the most terrible impact on people…it’s my job to represent their views; it’s my job to represent their voices.
“I’ve said in the past that I just can’t be drawn into the politics of those definitions and those discussions.”
This position has, unsurprisingly led to outrage from amongst victims and groups which represent them. Again from the News Letter:
DUP councillor Sammy Brush, who survived an attempt on his life by the IRA as he delivered mail in 1981, said he was dismayed by the comments.
The Dungannon councillor said he found it “shocking that we have a Victims’ Commissioner who appears not to know right from wrong or the difference between victims and terrorists”.
He added: “How can we have any confidence in the Victims and Survivors Service if the person at the top appears to treat victims of terrorism and the terrorists equally?”
Innocent Victims United (IVU), which says it represents 8,000 victims of terrorism, said international law confirms that the IRA, UVF and other proscribed organisations were terrorist.
The group said that it had a “good personal relationship” with the commissioner but added: “We can only but determine that she has taken leave of her senses in feeling unable or unwilling to describe those who butchered their fellow citizens – Protestant, Roman Catholic and Dissenter – as ‘terrorists’.
“The role of the Victims’ Commissioner’s office is to offer a ‘voice for victims’ but the voice that victims heard through the interview published yesterday is not a voice that represents them.”
He added: “The fundamental question at stake is this: is the Victims’ Commissioner’s Office offering an ‘independent voice for victims free from the political policy narrative of the present incumbents of OFMDFM or not?
“Could you imagine the outcry if the Home Secretary or a PSNI commander in response to the question, are women who wear short skirts and tight tops asking to be raped, were to reply: ‘I know there are some people who believe absolutely that they were; there are others who believe absolutely that they weren’t’?”
The problem here is that not stating an opinion on the above is clearly taking a very specific position: one which is rejected by the overwhelming majority of, not just victims, but also of wider Northern Ireland society. Refusing to call the likes of Lenny Murphy a terrorist is a position very few in Northern Ireland could stomach. It is actually a morally repugnant position and her flat refusal to given such an opinion, as Sammy Brush and other victims point out, destroys any confidence they can have in her. Since then the victims commissioner has so clearly undermined her position with those whom she is meant to represent it is surely time as Jim Allister has called for, for her to consider her position and if necessary for Peter Robinson to sack her.