Victims and Survivors
Private Members’ Business
William Hay (DUP)
The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the motion and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
Mike Nesbitt (UUP)
I beg to move
That this Assembly recognises the significant number of victims and survivors who need appropriate help and support to enable them to deal with the legacy of the past; further recognises the important work of the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund in addressing the specific needs of victims and survivors; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to consider the implications of the European Parliament’s proposed legal definition of a victim contained in its draft directive to establish minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker, you will notice that the motion is in three clauses: I will work through those in order. Perhaps, as an over-arching point for those who are wondering why we should have this debate at this time, the reason is simple: this is a critical time for our ability to service the needs of victims and survivors.
I could say that it is another critical time, because victims and survivors are certainly not short of false dawns. However, this is a critical time. Last Wednesday saw the official opening of the new Victims and Survivors Service. The remaining commissioners at the Commission for Victims and Survivors are coming to the end of their contracts, and change there seems inevitable. Meanwhile, the forum that will give victims a voice is finally, I understand, on its way.
The difficulty to date has been with timelines, which have been dogged by delay. The 10-year strategy from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister indicated that the Victims and Survivors Service, which opened last week, should have been up and running in June 2010. The forum, which we still await in its fully functioning format, was due to be established in September 2009. I recall from my time as one of the original commissioners at the Victims’ Commission going on our first round of public meetings, which took us to the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) in north Belfast. There, a survivor by the name of Hugh Rowan sat patiently in his wheelchair observing and listening to events. As the meeting came to a close, he made his one, very telling comment, which was to encourage the commissioners to get on with setting up the forum. He had plenty to tell them, and time was not on his side. I regret to say that Hugh Rowan is no longer with us and that the forum has not been established.
It seems to me that four key bodies here represent a circle, or compass, with four key points on the needs of victims. OFMDFM sets the strategy and provides the funding. The Victims and Survivors Service administers and distributes those funds, commissioning services that are appropriate to individuals and groups. The Commission for Victims and Survivors monitors, advises and generally champions the needs of victims. Finally, the forum should take the voice of victims right to the heart of the devolved Government.
A huge number of victims and survivors need appropriate help and support. Sometimes, it is estimated that the number of physically injured people runs at 40,000, although I understand that the WAVE Trauma Centre is about to produce a detailed report, which may give us a more accurate estimate. The number of people with psychological issues is, frankly, countless. It seems to me that, at times, when we deal with the legacy of our conflict, we focus on the dead at the expense of keeping a focus on the living injured and what we can do to make their lives a little easier. For example, the Historical Enquiries Team will review all deaths but no injuries. There is no dedicated mechanism for the many injured people who have questions about how they came to be a victim or a survivor.
The Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, which will be subsumed by the new Victims and Survivors Service, has been the only body offering dedicated support to individual victims and survivors, particularly those who did not wish to be part of a victims’ group. It has given us over a decade of dedicated service as an independent company with charitable status. My party pays tribute to the staff and to the board of the memorial fund for all that it has done over those years. The board has been made up of volunteers who took no reward, not even mileage or any other expense, during their time servicing the needs of victims and survivors. I was struck by evidence that was given to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister recently by Dennis Licence, the chairman of the memorial fund. He said that it had yet to meet the two junior Ministers, who have responsibility for victims. I understand that that position changed last Wednesday at Millennium House, when Mr Licence was introduced to the two junior Ministers at the launch of the Victims and Survivors Service. However, that was a meet-and-greet rather than a substantive meeting about the way forward in this transitional period, when the memorial fund will be subsumed into the new service.
One of the great outstanding challenges is to reach out to what I call the hidden victims, the many victims who have never come forward to the memorial fund or joined a support group. It is a question of certainty about whether these people are simply unaware of the services that are available to them or whether they are aware but have made a decision that we could summarise as “Thanks, but no thanks.” As the new, all-embracing service comes on stream, I hope that OFMDFM and the other parties that are involved in servicing needs will undertake as large an advertising, awareness and marketing campaign as they possibly can so that we can have certainty that all victims are aware of what is available to them and that they have simply made the decision that they do not wish to avail of those services.
The third part of our motion refers to the European Parliament’s proposed legal definition of a victim, contained in what is currently a draft directive concerned with establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. Let me refer the House to the 2006 Order, which defines a victim as:
“(a) someone who is or has been physically or psychologically injured as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident; (b) someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for an individual mentioned in paragraph (a); or (c) someone who has been bereaved as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident.”
Beyond that, with specific reference to psychological injury, it is someone injured as a result of:
“witnessing a conflict-related incident … or providing medical or other emergency assistance to an individual in connection with a conflict-related incident.”
We all know that that is a controversial and contested definition of a victim and survivor.
Do not take my word for it — let me refer you back to Hugh Rowan, no longer with us. His story is very simple. In the early hours of 23 August 1972, he arrived home from work at approximately 1.15 am. After going upstairs to speak to his wife, he went back downstairs to make himself a sandwich and to have a drink. There was a knock on the door. He left his food, he went to answer the door, and suddenly he found himself confronted by two young men pointing guns. He froze as they started shooting. He was hit five times, one bullet entering through his stomach into his spinal column. He gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and he said:
“As you are aware there are Victims and there are Innocent Victims. I as a person who has been seriously injured feel insulted to think perpetrators have the same entitlement to victimhood as I and thousands of others who have been killed injured or maimed at the hands of either republican or loyalist paramilitaries. I feel that the families of paramilitaries who were killed injured or imprisoned should not have the same rights to victimhood as the people who were going about their Legal and Lawful way of life when victimhood was bestowed upon them. The majority of people who were to become victims did not want any part of the Troubles until we were dragged into it. We did not choose to be Victims/Survivors.”
We ignore this distinction at our peril and at the peril of our children and grandchildren.
Currently, the EU is working on enhanced rights and protections, and within that draft directive is this definition of a victim:
“a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering or economic loss, directly caused by a criminal offence”.
And it is the family members of a victim whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence and who have suffered harm as a result.
I call on OFMDFM to examine the significance, the consequences and the implications, should that definition become law. The Ulster Unionist Party accepts the difficulty of articulating an agreed definition of a victim, just as it is difficult to agree anything about what happened, why it happened, or the language we use to describe what happened. But there is a moral imperative to accept the distinction between perpetrator and victim, as defined by the late Hugh Rowan.
William Humphrey (DUP)
I support the motion and congratulate the Members from the Ulster Unionist Party who brought it to the Chamber. Like Mr Nesbitt, I attended the meeting of the OFMDFM Committee that was attended by representatives of the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, and, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party, I pay tribute to its board and chairman, as I did at that meeting. I thank them for the service that they have given to victims in Northern Ireland over the last number of years and pay tribute to the dedication and diligence they have shown as a board.
I have the great privilege of representing North Belfast in this House. As someone born and raised in north Belfast, I have been very fortunate not to have anyone in my family lost during the Troubles. However, my father was shot by republicans on the Crumlin Road on 15 August 1969, but, very fortunately, he lived.
Twenty-one per cent of the murders in the Troubles happened in the constituency of North Belfast, which was known as the killing fields of Northern Ireland. It is a constituency that has more peace walls and interfaces than any other in Northern Ireland, and it has suffered greatly throughout the Troubles.
I welcome the establishment of a new victims’ service, and I know that the process of establishing the new board has begun. The staff are being finalised, and the process of appointing a new CEO will begin shortly. An interim CEO has been appointed in the short term.
It is important that we look at the definition of a victim. Throughout Northern Ireland, there are many victims, whether they were in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Police Service, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Irish Regiment or the regular forces stationed in Northern Ireland or whether they were prisoner officers or members of the public. Those people were committed to ensuring that, as a society, Northern Ireland remained as normal as it could be, just as others sought to have anarchy manifested in our streets. They protected our community from murder, intimidation and corruption. On behalf of my party, I pay tribute to the police, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Irish Regiment and, of course, members of the public who simply stood against what was wrong. Those victims, innocent victims — because they are innocent — cannot be compared by any right-thinking person to those who would seek, in a premeditated way, to destroy lives and property, destabilise the state, undermine democracy and murder in cold blood.
Establishing what is right and what is wrong is the benchmark for any decent society and any democracy. We must always set, and indeed maintain, high standards not just for those of us who have the privilege of living in this generation but for the generations to come. There is no question but that Northern Ireland is a better place than it was. Equally, however, there is no question but that our peace is not yet a complete peace. The weekend before last, in my constituency of North Belfast, we had the manifestations of those who would seek to take us back; those who would seek to bomb, murder and destroy. They have nothing to offer, and they cannot be allowed to win.
It is therefore welcome that the funding that is in place is in place, and it is important that the institutions are there to ensure that victims’ groups, innocent victims’ groups, are maintained and funded, and funded at a level that allows that work to be done.
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. As is normal, I thank the proposer for bringing the motion forward. I had some reservations about it, but I think that it is important that we have a discussion on this issue today. It is also important to determine whether the purpose of the motion is to support victims or whether it is a divisive motion that is trying to create a hierarchy of victims. If it is the latter, then that cannot be allowed to happen.
We have to find a way of dealing with the past, and it is important that we look at that in today’s debate and at how victims are all part of the past and how support services have been put in place to get us out of the situation of dealing with the past.
If there is an attempt to create second-class victims, it will fail, because that is the same as having second-class citizens, which was the main source of conflict in the first place.
Sinn Féin supports victims from all communities, and we support the funding for victims and survivors based on equality of implementation to ensure that everyone gets what they are entitled to. From speaking to them, I know that many victims feel that that is not the way that things were dealt with in the past and that equality of treatment did not always come first.
The memorial fund, for instance, which is referred to in the motion, did good work, and it should be complimented for that. However, many victims found that it was not easy to access and that it did not deal with the same issues with equality of operation. Many felt that there was a different approach taken to some victims than there was to others. So, I do not share the opinion of the memorial fund that is in Mr Elliot’s proposal.
It is also important to read behind the proposal, because Mr Elliot’s commentary in the ‘News Letter’ today is slightly different from the words of the proposal. It is very clear from his commentary in the ‘News Letter’ that the proposal is an attempt to create two tiers of victims. That is something that cannot be allowed to happen.
We welcome the opening of the Victims and Survivors Service last week and hope that it will continue to support victims and their needs and take that into a new generation.
The theme of inequality of implementation flows right through. Many victims will say, and have said to me in the past, “Where is the difference in the victims?” They say that because they see different funds being put in place for former members of the RUC, RUC Reserve, UDR and other services, despite the fact that members of those organisations were paid to do a job at that time. Despite that, they were paid compensation.
Ross Hussey (UUP)
Members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary may have been paid for the work that they undertook, but they were not paid to be shot, they were not paid to be murdered and they were not paid to be treated in the fashion in which they and their families were treated. Therefore, that comment is wrong and should be withdrawn. The RUC did a job and did it exceptionally well, and I also pay tribute to its members for their work.
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin)
You are entitled to your opinion. I would differ with it and with the way in which it was reached. The point I am making is about the differences in dealing with different groups of victims. Special funds were put in place for people from the services, yet other victims found it difficult to access funding to support them and received no special compensation.
That is despite the fact that many of those organisations were involved in collision in the murder of Catholics across the North, particularly in my own area, known as the “murder triangle”, where there was clear collusion between the UDR, the RUC and the RUC Reserve in the murder of Catholics. The victims of that collusion and their families have received a pittance of compensation and little or no investigation into their cases. Cover-up was the order of the day.
The proposed European definition of victims does not deal with the victims of the conflict here. That proposal is in the European Parliament; it may develop and survive in its present form, and it is something that the Ulster Unionists feel is appropriate. I do not feel that it is appropriate, because it does not deal with the same situation that we have here.
We have the whole idea of a peace project. Peace funding was designed for a community coming out of conflict and to bring the community together to deal with the past and support it in doing so. It was not a meant as a means of being divisive. If the motion is designed to divide the community and divide victims, it will fail, because there can be no going back to having second-class citizens, and there can be no going back to having second-class victims, even though that seems to be the aim of the proposal from Mr Elliott and his party.
I rise with some concern about the motion, not because of what I am sure is the good intent of those who tabled it — I think there was great intent behind it — but because of the significant introduction of a definition of a victim of crime, which is what the European directive gives. It defines a victim of crime and seeks to harmonise services and support services for the victims of crime across the European Union.
I read a considerable part of the debate that took place in the European Parliament last year on this issue. It does not seek, nor was it ever intended to seek, to address issues of victims of conflict. I could not find in the debate reference to the North of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Basque country, the Balkans or any other region of conflict within the European Union. I found only a very sincere and genuine attempt by legislators at a European level to seek to define the victim of crime.
Unfortunately, that is the issue, and Mr Nesbitt has just put his finger on it. It is not what I believe were crimes. Mr Eastwood will talk later about this, but, unfortunately for the families of Bloody Sunday, there is a question as to whether or not, in the mind of the state, those who died are victims of crimes. For the families of Ballymurphy, there is an open question in the mind of the state as to whether those who died are victims of crime.
I would be very concerned that we would unintentionally end up excluding people who we all, I think, feel were innocent victims of this conflict because we are trying to shoehorn a European definition intended for one purpose, and that is the harmonisation of support services and other services around victims of crime, into a post-conflict situation. That does not take away from our need to fully debate, understand and resolve to seek to define victims in the context of our local conflict. I absolutely support that, and the SDLP will continue to work hard to do so, but I am unhappy and nervous about applying this definition to our local context in the post-conflict sense.
Jim Allister (Traditional Unionist Voice)
I must say I am puzzled by the Member’s approach. If someone plants a bomb, it is patently a crime. If someone is shot on their doorstep, it is patently a crime. If someone is shot in a situation by a member of the security forces and the shooting is unlawful, it is a crime. So, what is the difficulty in identifying that we are here to deal with genuine victims of crime? The real problem, however, is that the present definition equates the victim with the perpetrator and makes the person who planted the bomb and is injured equally a victim, which, of course, is an utter obscenity.
I appreciate Mr Allister’s intervention and have no doubt about its sincerity. However, if Mr Allister were to refer to a paper that the Assembly Research and Information Service did on behalf of the SDLP a couple of weeks ago, and which I think is in the Library, he will find that, if you apply just the unlawful test to those killed by state agents and representatives of the state in the context of the Northern Ireland conflict, there are very many people who all of us in the House would, I think, believe to have been the victims of unlawful killings who are not considered so today. That is because the test that was applied at different stages does not meet the standard that we would apply ourselves. Because we may feel it is a crime does not make it a crime. Yet, this definition would require us to abide by a definition that I know would not meet the needs of our region.
William Humphrey (DUP)
I thank the Member for giving way. He will be aware that, in 2009, my party launched a public consultation on the whole idea of the definition of a victim, and a Bill was brought before this House in 2010. Unfortunately, when it was brought forward, the Alliance Party and yourselves vetoed it. I hope that will not be the case today.
I appreciate Mr Humphrey’s comments. I also really appreciated his contribution. I was not aware of his father, and I am very glad that he lived to enjoy what I hope was a full life, if not is still living a full life.
We need to take this from a local starting point, and this is not a local starting point. This is a starting point intended for entirely different purposes.
Colleagues, refer back to the debates of the Council of Ministers in the European Parliament. Refer back to the comments last month of Alan Shatter, incoming president of the Home Affairs Council of Ministers. The Council of the European Union..." class="glossary">Council of the European Union, in which he points out the need to do a huge amount of work on issues of harmonisation for victims of crime in the European Union. Unfortunately, that work will not solve our problems around victims of conflict. My appeal to the House is to reflect on that today and to resolve not to try to shoehorn someone else’s definition into our situation but to understand and accept that we have a situation that is more complicated than the draft European directive allows us to deal with —
Chris Lyttle (Alliance)
When I speak to victims and survivors, the most fundamental need that is communicated to me is the need to be recognised. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity that the motion provides to recognise victims and survivors in our community and to ensure that the Assembly delivers the care and support that they need. What is also made clear to me when I speak to victims and survivors is that we must continue to attempt to understand the human legacy of the Troubles and never cover over, or attempt to reinvent, the brutal impact of that period in our history.
We can never underestimate the legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past. As someone who was not even old enough to vote on the Good Friday Agreement, the legacy that the next generation has been given as a result of that period makes me very angry. We have heard that, during the Troubles, 3,700 lives were lost and 40,000 people sustained serious injury. The ‘Cost of the Troubles Study’ in 1997 stated that at least 6,800 people experienced the death of an immediate family member in a Troubles-related incident.
The Alliance Party acknowledges the grief and the deep and lasting impact of the deaths and serious injuries caused by the Troubles. That impact has changed forever what many people consider normal, everyday life. It has robbed people of their ability to work and their mobility and has caused serious emotional and mental health problems, the full extent of which is just becoming known.
The Alliance Party welcomes and recognises the work undertaken by the Commission for Victims and Survivors in very difficult circumstances to identify the needs of victims and survivors, whether physical, psychological or financial.
Chris Lyttle (Alliance)
I want to try to get through all the comments; sorry.
The commissioners have advocated strongly for better support for victims and recognition that their needs are complex. I welcome the new Victims and Survivors Service and the opportunity that it provides to deliver better co-ordinated support for victims. In particular, I welcome the fact that victims will receive a holistic assessment of need, which we hope will ensure that every member of this community who requires help will get it.
It is important that we recognise the work of the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, as the motion states, and also perhaps the Community Relations Council, which, for many years, has delivered vital financial assistance and support to individual victims and survivors, their families and constituted groups. During its time of operation, the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund gave people affected by the Troubles a range of vital practical help, including financial assistance for carers and seriously injured people, disability support, and training and education support. It is worth noting that OFMDFM’s slowness of administration and disagreement have, at times, been referred to as making it difficult for that support to be delivered. Hopefully, that will improve with the new service.
The Alliance Party believes that it is essential that the new Victims and Survivors Service develops the knowledge and experience available from that work to help people with the most sensitive and complex needs in our community and that direct support to victims is maintained. The voluntary and community sector has also played a vital role in support of victims and survivors. The WAVE Trauma Centre, which has already been mentioned today, has provided vital assistance and continues to do so.
The Alliance Party believes that high quality support and assistance is fundamental. The ‘Strategy for Victims and Survivors’ published by OFMDFM in 2009 states that action is required in three areas: a comprehensive needs assessment to inform services; dealing with the past; and building for the future. The Assembly has recognised that it is not for victims and survivors alone to deal with that difficult legacy.
I was concerned about the motivation behind the motion, and, in my opinion, what has been said in media articles today is not reflected in the motion. That is cause for concern, particularly in relation to the third clause. It is obviously acceptable for the First Minister and deputy First Minister to consider the impact of any European directive. However, we have an established framework in Northern Ireland to deal with our specific circumstances in relation to victims and survivors, and any changes proposed to that should be led by the victims and their needs, not by politicians or for a political end. The new victims and survivors’ service must be allowed to progress on that basis if we are to continue to deliver for all the victims —
Peter Weir (DUP)
I join others in thanking those who tabled the motion for bringing it forward. I also join other Members in saying that I cannot claim to be a victim, nor, indeed, can any member of my family. I lived through the Troubles and lived a reasonably peaceful life in what might be described as the leafy suburbs of Bangor. While it was not untouched by the Troubles, it was less touched than some other areas. However, I am very conscious of the fact that I was able to have, in Northern Ireland terms, a relatively normal upbringing. For that, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the members of the security forces — the army, the police and the UDR. They were on the front line protecting the lives of many ordinary citizens and ensuring that they were able to grow up in a normal fashion. Therefore, it is important that we pay tribute to them.
As Members have indicated, the motion falls into a number of parts. The first couple of parts deal with support for victims to deal with the legacy of the past and with the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund. I join others in praising the work that the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund has done. A considerable amount of work has gone on and is ongoing in respect of practical support for victims. In recent years, that level of support has trebled. While the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund has done good work, it is right that those services are subsumed into one body providing that delivery. I believe that the establishment of the new victims and survivors’ service is a very positive step forward and should be welcomed by all sides of the House.
As Mr Nesbitt indicated, victims come in many different shapes and sizes in terms of their attitudes. Some see themselves as being linked with particular groups; many see themselves as individuals. Some want their issues to be centre stage; others do not want to be disturbed and want to be left alone. The proposer of the motion indicated that we need to make it absolutely clear to people what services are available and that they have the opportunity to avail themselves of those services. However, we should not be surprised if some say that is too painful a part of their life and that they do not want to have to deal with it, or, perhaps, they feel, from a material point of view, that they are able to cope and feel, perhaps wrongly, that to accept help is some form of charity. Therefore, whatever our views on the latter part of the motion, it is clear that we need to give that positive support.
Turning to the final part of the motion, let me make it absolutely clear: there needs to be a distinction drawn in the definition between a victim and a perpetrator. The current definition comes from the 2006 legislation, which was there at the time of direct rule. It originally came from an OFMDFM document from about 10 years ago under a different regime. It is unacceptable. As Members indicated, I brought forward private Member’s legislation that tried to change that definition and exclude from it any individual who had been convicted of an offence in connection with a conflict-related incident or being a member of a proscribed organisation. It should be noted that one would expect opposition from the Members opposite. That was not particularly surprising. However, the veto on that Bill could not have been triggered by Sinn Féin alone. Indeed, it was made a cross-community vote because the SDLP signed up to opposing that. When it came to the vote, it was also not supported by the Alliance Party. I find that disturbing and very disappointing, but we are where we are on that.
Time is very short, but I move now to the European definition. I am disturbed by the line that the SDLP has taken in connection with it. It may not be its intention to do so, but it seems to draw some distinction between conflict-related —
I appreciate Mr Weir letting me back in. The SDLP does not seek to draw a spurious distinction. It tries to say that we should not use the definition of a victim of crime as the catch-all definition of a victim of our conflict, because, as I have said on several occasions already today, there are many innocent victims of the conflict who, through this definition, would not be considered as being victims.
Peter Weir (DUP)
I do not agree with that, because I believe that a crime is a crime is a crime. It is not a question of whether I feel it is a crime, or whether Conall McDevitt or anybody else feels that it is a crime; it is whether it is a crime in criminal law. That is where the distinction is drawn.
Peter Weir (DUP)
No. I am short on time. I want to finish my point, and I have only a few seconds left. The position on that is and should be clear. The problem with the current definition is that it does not draw a distinction between the victim and the perpetrator, which, I think, is grossly offensive. I think that the European definition is a step forward, and to have a degree of consideration to the wording is, at least, a step forward, but I am not 100% convinced that the definition is watertight. I apply the situation oft used of the Shankill bomber. Does the Shankill bomber, for example, who has blown himself up as part of that —
Peter Weir (DUP)
Would a member of his family be a person whose death was caused by a criminal offence? Arguably, he would be, even though the person involved was the perpetrator? I am not, therefore, sure that this is necessarily the catch-all, but I support the motion. I think this is a matter that we need to come back to.
Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I appreciate the motion being brought forward. I am particularly appreciative of how much care people are adopting in coming towards the debate. I welcome the debate. It would be very easy for us to slip into the groove of our contested history and come at it from our set positions.
Given the time that has passed since the war was declared over and since we agreed the mechanism by which all shades of political opinion would address the social and economic priorities for our community, we should be adopting the same approach when it comes to our contested history. This is shared history, but it is, undoubtedly, conflict-orientated. Our present situation very often reflects that that conflict continues, even in debates in the Chamber. We may not have examples of open, outright warfare on our streets with the same kind of ferocity that we had, but there are still people who are intent on revisiting that situation. If we do not address the opportunity that we have in here to maintain the forward momentum, we are, in a sense, joining those who would attempt to destroy the compact that we have all agreed.
I start from the position that we were all victims. We were all victims. Some people do not accept that, but you have to ask yourself where the conflict of the past 30 years came from.
Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Féin)
No, I will not give way to you, if you do not mind, because I know exactly what you are going to say. We have to consider whether people are going to depend on arguing that every republican is a murderer or complicit in murder, or that every RUC officer is a bigot and has been involved in state oppression. I do not start from that position. I was a member of the civil rights movement. I was out on 5 October 1968. I got a broken elbow for my trouble, but I do not argue, and I never have, that every single RUC officer I have met has been a sectarian bigot. In fact, and I say this as a republican, on many occasions, I was treated with courtesy and professionalism. Having a black and white approach that everybody on the other side of an argument is bad and the people who are on our side are good, is not the way to proceed.
If we go back to 1968, we will see that we did not create the divisions that existed in our society, so we were all innocent victims. People, including members of the British security services who were involved in commissioning murder, responded to that. Now, the fact that they were wearing uniforms and the fact that they were using guns that were legally authorised by Westminster did not detract from people’s perspective that they were being —
David McNarry (UUP)
Thank you for giving way. I am always interested to hear what Mr McLaughlin says, because he comes at it from an approach that helps me to understand. I wonder whether he could help me understand further. When he talks about the war, can he tell me — a unionist — who he believes republicans had a war against in Northern Ireland?
Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Féin)
Thank you. David, I thank you for the question, but I will resist that temptation if you do not mind. If you want to use your own time to develop that concept, you can. I am not the person who described it as a war. Read the British Government’s statements; read the RUC’s statements; read the unionist leadership’s statements as well as listening to my words. Anybody who would describe what happened to our society and the convulsion that our society went through as anything other than a war does not agree with the broad international opinion —
Mitchel McLaughlin (Sinn Féin)
Perhaps people might want to explore that as well, and I invite you to do the same, although I do not know how far that will take you. The point that I am making is that we could have avoided that, and we could avoid it in the future. President McAleese stated in the past year that we cannot change the past; however, we have a responsibility to change the future. Some of the attitudes and discussions that we will have in the House today will demonstrate that this is a very challenging issue. I say with some regret that some of our representatives in the House are not up to that challenge. They are not prepared to go there or to look. When they point the finger and say that those irregulars — those who were not members of the security services — who took up guns were criminals, and that those who were wearing uniforms were not, irrespective of their actions, you cannot hope to get agreement on that approach. The issue of trying to differentiate between victims really is continuing the divisive conflict of the past. Our responsibility is not to continue that conflict but to find ways of bringing forward genuine reconciliation and adequate and appropriate responses for those who have been traumatised as a result of the conflict, which is what the Victims and Survivors Service is about. However, if we do not start on the basis that the conflict —
Lord Morrow (DUP)
I, too, commend those who tabled the motion, because it is very appropriate and timely that we should debate the issue.
I listened to the comments made by Mitchel McLaughlin and Conall McDevitt, and to say that they are confusing and difficult to understand may not be true, maybe that is just par for the course. Members of the SDLP have to make up their mind on the issue: they cannot be both, and that is exactly what they are trying to do. It is unfortunate that they take this allegedly high moral ground and this holier-than-thou attitude, but when it comes to actually stepping down on the one side or the other, they are the typical fence-sitters. Of course, they will also insist that their members go to the funerals and applaud those who get a full paramilitary send-off. They do not see any anomaly in that. They say that that is the right thing to do. They also campaign vigorously for the release of people like McGeough. Who is Mr McGeough? I will tell you who he is for those who may be confused here, and there is obviously confusion in the SDLP. Mr McGeough is a convicted terrorist. He was convicted for the attempted murder of Councillor Sammy Brush, one of my colleagues on Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council. Thankfully, Sammy Brush had the presence of mind to return fire and repel those who were coming to take his life. Yet, the SDLP vigorously campaigns for the release of that sort of person.
I appreciate Lord Morrow letting me in on this point. I think that this highlights the importance of being quite accurate about definitions here and of not using language loosely.
There are a couple of issues. First, it is absolutely right to get a definition of victim. Anyone innocent who died during the Troubles should be a victim, and a crime should be a crime. The reality is that if certain things that are very obviously crimes by today’s standards had been considered crimes at the time, we would not have had whitewashes and the legacy of the perception that the state applied different standards. That is the historical reality.
Secondly, on the definition of war, I think that it is very important to reflect on the fact that the British Government and the IRA never allowed the conflict to be defined as a war; they engaged in the rhetoric of it. All parties knew that if they allowed it to be defined as a war they would be subject to the Geneva convention. I would be very happy had the Geneva convention applied here. However, we have to be precise; and that, unfortunately, was not the case because neither the British Government nor the IRA would ever allow it. I think that Lord Morrow makes some very important points, but they need to be thought about in that context.
Lord Morrow (DUP)
Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker, I will not need to be reminded again about what to do when Mr McDevitt asks me to give way. That was a slight abuse. However, I do try to give way to Members when they ask. I heard what he said. That is the type of rhetoric that people are, quite frankly, a bit disgusted with and a bit fed up listening to.
Sinn Féin also has much further to go on the issue. Of course, Mitchel McLaughlin tried to say that we are all victims and that the awful society in which we lived made us all victims. When he got a crash across the elbow, he was very magnanimous and said that he took it as the way things were and that he did not blame every member of the RUC. That is despite the fact that he and his organisation campaigned vigorously for the destruction of the RUC, which unfortunately happened, and we know the consequence of that.
There have been other failures in this whole attempt to address the issue, not least the Eames/Bradley report. Mr McLaughlin is coming from exactly that background. If you read the Eames/Bradley report carefully, you will find that it also states that we are all guilty. The terrorist who pulled the trigger, fired and executed a member of the security forces is no guiltier than the member of the security forces or the unfortunate individual who was murdered by a terrorist bomb while standing at a bus stop. According to the Eames/Bradley report, the person standing at the bus stop was just as guilty as the person who planted the bomb. How disgraceful and obnoxious. Is it any wonder that we have difficulties defining a victim?
Let us make something very clear. Mr Molloy mentioned the murder triangle. I know the murder triangle very well, because I lived in the centre of it. We were at the cutting edge of it, and we know exactly what was going on there. The impression that Mr Molloy seemed to give is that the security forces were in cahoots with those from the loyalist side. However, let me remind Mr Molloy and the whole House today that the greatest majority of unsolved murders are the ones that were committed by PIRA.
William Hay (DUP)
The Member’s time is up.
The Business Committee has arranged to meet immediately upon the lunchtime suspension. I therefore propose, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm. The first item of business after lunch will be Question Time.
The sitting was suspended at 12.34 pm.
On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) —