Who Categorises Victims?
This week saw the cynical leaking of Evelyn Glenholmes’ name as one of those who was invited to sit on the forthcoming Commission for Victims and Survivors. Out of a total of twenty five participants hers was the only name to be leaked and the reason for this action was borne out in the media in the days that followed—achieving exactly the response it was intended to. Stephen Nolan dedicated a large chunk of his Wednesday night show to it and indeed carried the subject on to his radio show the following morning. On the television show Nolan’s panellists or rather, guests were Brendan McAllister—Victims Commissioner—Alex Maskey—Sinn Fein MLA, and Mike Nesbitt MLA—Leader of the Ulster Unionist party and of course an ex Victims Commissioner.
The discussion that took place between the three and subsequently the audience input was predictably, predictable. Brendan explained that the term victim–in the context of the past conflict— is wide ranging and encompasses a large swathe of the community, including in many instances ex-prisoners and combatants from both the Nationalist and Loyalist camps. Mike Nesbitt took issue with this and refused to answer with a Yes or No when asked repeatedly by Nolan if he considered Glenholmes to be a victim. Nesbitt backtracked—slightly—by declaring that he personally didn’t have a problem with either ex-prisoners or combatants being represented on the Forum but questioned the acceptance of Glenholmes because he felt that she was too high profile. What is astounding here—and in the previous furore around the appointment of Mary McArdle as a Sinn Fein special advisor in Stormont last year—is that the complainants do not have a problem sharing a platform—or big salary—with elected MLA’s who are or were convicted murderers. It must be remembered at this point that not only was Glenholmes shot and wounded early in the conflict—qualifying her as a victim—but she was never convicted of an offence. Alex Maskey’s input was along the usual Sinn Fein lines where, he declared that while there may well be some people on the Forum that he would personally prefer not to see there he would just have to go along with it. This position and stance may well change of course whenever the rest of the makeup of the Commission is made public. The participation of the audience on the Nolan show—some invited—was, again predictably divided on the subject. Perhaps one of the most compelling inputs was the caller whose Mother had been blown up and killed by a UVF bomber in the 1980’s. The bomber was severely injured in the blast and was treated at the scene by the son who categorically declared that the assailant was a victim just like his mother. Much has been—and much more will be—written and spoke about on the sensitive subject in the days and months—and years—to come. It will be another rigorous test and high hurdle on the stony path to reconciliation but one that can surely be overcome. What we don’t need along the way is people like Mike Nesbitt—or Jim Allister—or Willie Frazer—or Sir Raymond McCord asserting who is or isn’t a victim and in doing so creating their own league table of such—with themselves at the summit of the Premier Division—and many as equally deserving—scrapping it out at the foot of the Conference.