Thursday, 31 January 2008

Commissioners' statement exacerbates unionist scepticism

Newton Emerson’s withering cynicism over the four newly appointed Victims Commissioners is forged into amusing analogy in his latest Irish News column. Meanwhile the new Commission itself has got as far as an introductory press release before providing persuasive evidence for the view that its composition belies a revisionist agenda.

Patricia MacBride is one of the four appointees who so compelled the First and Deputy First Ministers with their excellence at interview, that the number of available posts were quadrupled. In her mini-biography for the delectation of press and public she describes her brother Tony as an “IRA volunteer who was killed by the SAS on active service in 1984”.

Justifiably this description has provoked a good deal of anger. Tony McBride was killed whilst attempting to plant a bomb with the intention of maiming and killing. Now I will not attempt to argue that the McBride family are not therefore victims of the Troubles. They were robbed of a relation by a movement which encouraged young men to commit violent criminal actions. In some abstruse way Tony McBride was himself a victim of the circumstances which found him committing crime.

Tony McBride nevertheless was a criminal engaged in attempted murder – he was not by any reasonable definition “on active service”. There is no comparison and should be no notional parity between the death of Tony McBride, who set out to maim and kill, with the result that he was himself killed, and the death of another commissioner’s husband, Lindsay McDougall who was shot dead whilst on duty for the RUC reserve in Belfast.

The initial press release produced by the new Victims’ Commission will simply exacerbate fears that the appointment of these four commissioners has been made precisely with the intention of implying parity between such deaths. Alex Kane raised just such a fear in his column which I drew attention to below.

The old Sinn Fein mantra that there should not be a “hierarchy of victims” is in fact emotive rhetorical sophistry which implies that we need not pay any attention to the particular circumstances in which a death or injury occurred. This is of course nonsense. The Commission can and must investigate and distinguish between the circumstances of different incidents. The most important distinction must be drawn between those who were killed or injured attempting to commit violent acts and those who were killed or injured doing their job or otherwise going about their daily lives.

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