COI Gazette -23rd January 2015

Regarding Troubles perpetrators as victims ‘incompatible’ with victim concept, SDLP tells Gazette

Alban Maginness MLA, Justice spokesperson for the SDLP

Alban Maginness MLA, Justice spokesperson for the SDLP

The SDLP’s Justice spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness, has told the Gazette that to regard perpetrators as Troubles victims “is incompatible with the concept of being a victim”.

 
Mr Maginness was referring to the issue of the statutory definition of a Troubles victim, as in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which defines a victim and survivor as someone injured as a result of “a conflict-related incident”, someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for such an individual or someone bereaved as a result of such an incident.

 
The long-running problem with this definition has been the fact that it suggests a moral equivalence between, for example, members of paramilitary organisations and police officers or soldiers, drawing no distinction between those who were engaged in lawful activity and those whose actions were unlawful; a bomber injured by his or her own bomb would be as much a victim as passers-by who also were injured.

 
BACKGROUND

 
Last July, we reported how former Primate Lord Eames, who with Denis Bradley had
co-chaired the Consultative Group on the Past which reported in 2009, had told the Gazette in June 2014 that, “despite the difficulties in drafting”, the statutory definition of a victim during the Northern Ireland Troubles needed to take account of a distinction between those who were engaged in lawful activity and those who were engaged in unlawful activity, revealing that he had “argued the point with politicians frequently” and had discussed drafting problems, including those around the term ‘victim’, with civil servants.

 
In a subsequent article, the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor, Liam Clarke, wrote that Lord Eames’ comments to us were “a reversal of the position that the former Archbishop adopted in the 2009 report of the Consultative Group on the Past which he co-authored with Denis Bradley”, quoting Mr Bradley as having said that he wanted to meet Lord Eames to “clarify his comments”.

 
Last October, Ann Travers voiced support to the Gazette for Lord Eames’ call for the statutory definition of a victim during Northern Ireland’s Troubles to be changed.

 
Ms Travers’ sister, Mary, was killed by the Provisional IRA in 1984 at the age of 23, coming out of St Brigid’s church in south Belfast after Mass. Her father, Tom Travers, a magistrate, was shot six times in the attack. An attempt was also made to murder his wife, but the gun misfired twice.

 
Ms Travers told us: “I welcome Lord Eames’ view. In no way can perpetrators be equated with their victims.”

 
SDLP RESPONSE

 
Following Ms Travers’ comments to us, the Gazette approached the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie MP on the same subject last autumn and, after an initial meeting, Ms Ritchie arranged for the editor to meet with Mr Maginness as the party’s Justice spokesperson.

 
The meeting took place on Monday 5th January at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Ms Ritchie was also present.

 
Mr Maginness said he sympathised with Lord Eames’ view regarding the statutory definition of a victim of the time of the Troubles, as expressed by Lord Eames last year to the Gazette, that, despite difficulties in drafting, a distinction should be drawn between those who were engaged in lawful activity and those who were engaged in unlawful, criminal activity.

 
Mr Maginness commented: “I would not disagree with Lord Eames’ view because clearly it is very difficult when people who were perpetrators are regarded as victims. That is incompatible with the concept of being a victim.”

 
Referring to the current definition of a victim in the Victims and Survivors Order, Mr
Maginness said: “The current definition is not ideal, but we have to work with what we’ve got until a better definition comes along. The question is how to amend it, but unlawful actions should not be regarded in the same way as actions that are within the law.”

 
Mr Maginness also expressed concern at what he described as “Sinn Féin’s new narrative” of the Troubles, characterised by a moral equivalence between paramilitaries and the State.

 


Editorial

THE WELL OF UNITY

The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is ‘The Well is Deep’, with Scripture reflection focusing on John 4: 7 and Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman by the well. The theme, chosen by the Churches of Brazil, tells much about the compassion of Christ and the depth of the well of divine grace. The ecumenical organisation, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, notes:

“Brazilians, who have traditionally been tolerant of their various social classes and ethnic groups, are now living through a time of growing intolerance made manifest in high levels of violence, especially against minorities and the vulnerable … Increasingly, in Brazil, some Christian groups compete with one another for a place on the mass media, for new members and for public funds.”

Nonetheless, the Brazilian Churches, CTBI tells us, have begun to recognise that intolerance needs to be dealt with in a positive way, through a new commitment to respecting diversity and promoting dialogue. We all need to draw on that deep well of God’s grace. Brazil – the fifth largest country in the world and the largest in South America – has seen in the relatively recent past a dramatic expansion of evangelical and pentecostal Churches, with pentecostals alone numbering close to 15 per cent of the total number of Brazilian Christians.

The national ecumenical body, CONIC (Conselho Nacional de Igrejas Cristãs do Brasil), includes the Roman Catholic Church, along with the country’s World Council of Churches member-Churches. Unity is said to be both God’s will for, and God’s gift to, the Church. That means that unity is something already in the here and now, as well as having a future aspect. In that sense, it is, as a theme, akin to the theme of the Kingdom of God itself, the Kingdom being present wherever the rule of Christ is honoured and observed, but also being still to come in its fullness. The ecumenical paradox is that, even though all those who are in Christ are already at one in the mystical Body of Christ, our unity still has to find its full expression. This is the ongoing task of ecumenism.

It has become increasingly clear, as the decades of the modern ecumenical movement have gone by, that ecumenism is not to be seen simply as being about doctrinal debate and agreed statements, but is also, and perhaps more dynamically, about Christians being and acting together in the world.

Showing our unity in prayer, praise and service is vital in working out the vision of the Church’s unity. We are now living increasingly in a postdenominational Church environment in which denominationalism is seen as simply too narrow a Church view; the old doctrinal debates may still have their place, but they must not hold us up in our ecumenical witness. So, that actual being and acting together as Christians becomes itself a true ‘well of unity’.


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