If nothing else, Theresa Villiers statement on power-sharing contains some odd language (see the first quote Mick has cited here). The nuances in “…there are inherent weaknesses in a system in which it is very difficult to remove one’s rulers by voting and to choose a viable alternative…” actually jar with the mother-and-apple-pie follow-up about about consistency with power-sharing and inclusivity. A central tenet of democracy is that voting in elections removes ‘rulers’ and replaces them with whoever gets elected (which may or may not be the same people). The alternative, which may be the intended threat here, is direct rule. While this is probably more sloppy rhetoric, than anything else, to then say “…it is so firmly within the Assembly’s competence to deal with those matters…” is merely to invite ridicule (ask Richard Haass).
If one thing is abundantly clear, either from the creation of a northern government at the time of partition, or merely in the recent incarnation of an assembly at Stormont, functional government at a six-county level has never been achieved (you can backfill your preferred alternative of an united Ireland or UK solution here). Even Villiers’ own assertion about “inherent weaknesses” could be read as an implicit recognition of the failure of Unionist government prior to the introduction of direct rule in 1972. Whatever patchwork solution(s), if any, she may have in mind (only official unionist, nationalist and ‘”other” oppositions would seem to fit the criteria), it is hard to say how it would make Stormont seem any less of a transitional arrangement than it already does. Much of that is par-for-the-course for whoever’s Westminster desk happens to have the brief for the north.
Her comment on victims, though, is heavily laden with the same flawed logic that the Attorney General tried to apply. Her belief that there should be “…a proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries…rather than the almost exclusive concentration on the activities of the state which characterises so many of the processes currently under way,” is simply a re-fresh of John Larkin’s complaint about how “we have very good tools, subject to the point I’ve made about the passage of time, for critiquing the state, but we don’t have them for bringing to account those who have committed offences against the state”. Neither statement stands up to any serious scrutiny and I’d previously dismissed Larkin’s as being “…absurd to the point of being completely misleading.” The Newsletter is reporting Victim’s Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, as being equally unimpressed by Theresa Villiers’ version.
What is really absent in both Larkin’s statement and it’s re-hash by Villiers is a failure to evidence any sense of victim typologies. Certainly, for some, there are differing attitudes towards the appropriateness of the inclusion of all fatalities under a single ‘victims’ category. But that, at least, evidences an implicit, if generally primitive, understanding that there needs to be a mapping of a diversity of responses to differing victim typologies. Recognising that there are different types of victim allows for the possibility of developing and curating appropriate responses to meet the different needs of victims and the communities around them. In many instances, indeed most, of those fatalities caused by republicans and loyalists (well, those officially outside the security forces anyway), there is little dispute over the circumstances of their deaths, notwithstanding the language used legitimising those acts and the hurt it can still cause. In many of the cases of those killed by the security forces, it is the actual circumstances in which they were killed that is normally at the centre of ongoing disputes with the state over the official versions of how they died. As a specific victim typology, they require a significantly distinct response, which is different and not higher up or lower down a hierarchy. Theresa Villiers statement wasn’t it.