News Letter
8 June 2012

A WOMAN whose sister was gunned down by the IRA has branded Sinn Fein claims that the Shankill Butchers were victims of the Troubles as “political correctness gone barmy”.

Anne Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered as she left a Belfast chapel with her father and mother in 1984, also hit out at suggestions that one option to deal with Northern Ireland’s past might would be to let victims “die off”.

Ms Travers was speaking yesterday after Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin was asked on the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show if the Shankill Butchers were victims.

He replied: “I think they were, because all of us are victims of a conflicted and divided society.”

The Shankill Butchers were a group of Belfast loyalists who murdered 19 people in the 1970s using tools from the butcher’s trade. Their nickname is still used today as a by-word for cruelty.

Mr McLaughlin was then asked if ordinary people distinguish between an innocent child killed in the Troubles and armed men on the British or republican sides.

But the MLA replied: “I am refusing to be drawn into that game of a hierarchy of blame.”

Asked if dissident republicans are also victims, he replied: “Of course they are.”

Ms Travers immediately hit out against Mr McLaughlin’s comments on social networking site Twitter. She then contacted the News Letter to repeat her views.

“What Mitchel McLaughlin said was going to the ridiculous,” she said. “His definition of victims is political correctness gone barmy.

“I cannot see how someone who plants a bomb can be on an equal footing with one of their victims, people who had no means to defend themselves and no prior warning they were about to be attacked.

“Just because you are in a community where something bad has happened to you, it doesn’t mean it is completely right to go out and murder.

“Sinn Fein put the IRA volunteers to the forefront and are very supportive of them. But I remember growing up in Northern Ireland where people were petrified of what the IRA and loyalists would do to them.”

Denis Bradley, a former co-chair of the Northern Ireland Consultative Group on the Past, agreed with BBC presenter Stephen Nolan’s suggestion yesterday that a “crude” option for dealing with the past is to “stall it as long as possible and eventually those victims will die off and that is when Northern Ireland will move forward”.

Mr Bradley replied: “Well it is not that crude, no. It is crude in a way, but everything put forward here is to some degree. But there are certainly people in our society who would express that [view] publicly or privately.”

He added that with such an approach “the past” would still be holding Northern Ireland back.

Ms Travers said: “My response to that is that my father spent his entire life after he was shot trying to get the truth of what happened to his daughter. He was just heartbroken that he was not able to get justice for his beautiful daughter.

“If we just want to let the victims die off it will just be like covering up a wound, letting it puss away and get ulcerated. We must celebrate how far we have come, but we also need the whole picture on the past.

“We know Sinn Fein now wants cleared criminal records for IRA members but I would call on them first to stop justifying themselves and their past. Give us victims a shred of humanity because that is what you are asking us to give to you. “Sinn Fein rejects any talk of a hierarchy of victims but they have their own hierarchy of victims and my sister is right at the bottom of it.

“Individual victims sit quietly at home as there are so many big personalities at Stormont and it is hard to speak out against Sinn Fein because they are so passionate and unflinching. But I want to call on individual victims to speak out.

“Every victim bleeds the same whether shot by republicans, loyalists or the Army, but at least we have had the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

“Even the loyalists repudiated their campaign of violence when they decommissioned – but republicans have never done that.”

Ms Travers says she does not want to see any former IRA members go to jail.

She said: “What I do need is for Sinn Fein to say to me that my dad didn’t deserve to be attacked and that my sister didn’t deserve to die like that. Instead, they just say it was ‘regrettable’.

“I would like to know who played God and decided that my dad should be targeted, even more than that I would like to know who the gunmen were who shot him,” she said.

* Follow Philip Bradfield on twitter at @Phil_Bradfield