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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
By Noel McAdam
17 May 2012
Hundreds of people injured during the Troubles remain stressed, in failing health and left dependent on benefits, a major report revealed today.
The first study of its kind has estimated the total number of men, women and children injured during decades of conflict here could be as high as 100,000.
They suffered the loss of limbs, impaired or lost sight and hearing as well as “invisible” injuries such as embedded shrapnel and psychological trauma as the result of bombings and shootings.
Sandra McPeake, chief executive of victims group the WAVE Trauma Centre which commissioned the investigation, said: “It’s a staggering fact that since the start of the Troubles there is no official listing of people injured and therefore the injured and their families not only feel forgotten but in reality they actually have been forgotten.”
Today the campaign group is taking a 10,000-strong petition to Stormont to demand politicians give greater recognition to the needs of the victims.
In the survey — entitled The Injured in the Troubles in Northern Ireland and funded through the Community Relations Council —
injured people identified money worries as a “major stresser”.
For some cases, initial compensation was based on income rather than need, and life expectancy was underestimated.
Some awarded compensation — but who were unable to work — were also disqualified from entitlement to benefits.
The report added: “Thus injured people compensated in the early 1970s exhausted their compensation, since they had to live off it. They are now dependent entirely on benefits.
“Since many injured people rely entirely on the benefit system, the current review of disability benefits is causing great anxiety particularly the review of Disability Living Allowance (DLA).”
While over 70% backed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the report showed many of those injured experienced feelings of increased resentment which only intensified as politicians’ promises of help were broken.
“Several injured people described a sense that peace has come too late for them and their difficulties were compounded by a lack of acknowledgment of their suffering,” it said.
This was illustrated by the Historical Inquiries Team’s remit not to investigate cases in which “only” injuries have occurred.
Author Professor Marie Smith said: “Where acknowledgement occurs it often focuses on death and bereavement, omitting injury, and this also contributes to the sense of injustice expressed by injured people.”
The study also reveals how others who were injured encountered the suspicion that what happened to them was due to their “involvement” in paramilitary groups, with often “invasive” questions.
17 May 2012
Victims campaigners are to hand in a petition of 10,000 signatures at Stormont later.
They want to highlight what they have called a staggering shortfall in services for those injured during the Troubles.
It follows research commissioned by victims group, Wave, which assessed the needs of those who still have physical problems as a result of their injuries.
Survivors said they felt overlooked and their benefits were being cut.
Alec Bunting lost a leg when the taxi he was driving was blown up in 1991.
“You are not only suffering the pain, you are suffering the financial pain,” he said.
“You are wondering how you are going to get through tomorrow, or the next week, or the next letter.
“You get frightened even about the envelope coming through the door in case it is some form of a bill.”
The research was commissioned by WAVE Trauma Centre and highlights what it claims is a shortfall in services for thousands of people physically injured as a result of the Troubles.
One of its members, Jennifer McNern, lost both of her legs in the Abercorn Restaurant bombing in Belfast in 1972.
“For too long people living with serious disability, as a result of the conflict, have had limited recognition. They live with physical pain and discomfort especially as they grow older,” she said.
“We understand the economic environment but this situation was highlighted 14 years ago in the Bloomfield Report, ‘We will remember them’.”
“The majority of serious injuries happened in the early 70s and 80s. Now aged in their late 50s, they got miniscule compensation – victims and survivors have been in financial crisis for years.”
The findings of the research study will be launched at the Brain Injury Unit in Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast later on Thursday.
The Injured Support Group will also present the petitions at No 10 Downing Street and at the Dail (Irish Parliament) on Monday 21 May at 12:00 BST.
April 06 2012
More than 3,500 people who died as a result of the conflict in Northern Ireland are being honoured in Dublin.
For three hours the names of each victim of the Troubles will be read during a Good Friday ceremony in the Dublin Unitarian Church in St Stephen’s Green.
The annual act of commemoration – now in its 12th year – is the only religious service of its kind in Ireland.
Andy Pollak, of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, said the reading of names illustrates powerfully the terrible, random nature of death in war and civil conflict.
“All human life and death is in this mournful list,” he said.
British soldiers, IRA volunteers, loyalist paramilitaries, Ulster policemen and women, gardai, part-time UDR men, prison officers, civil rights marchers and judges are remembered, alongside the innocent victims of all ages killed in cities, towns and villages across Northern Ireland, the Irish republic and Britain.
The list starts alphabetically with Anthony Abbott, a soldier from Manchester shot dead by the IRA in Ardoyne in North Belfast in 1976.
It will finish with William and Letitia Younger, an elderly Protestant man and his daughter, who were beaten, stabbed and shot by intruders in their home in Ligoniel in 1980.
Chronologically, the sad litany begins in 1966 with John Patrick Scullion, a Catholic storeman shot by the UVF in Belfast.
The last victim, Catholic PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr, was murdered in a car bomb attack by dissidents in Omagh, County Tyrone, last April.
COLERAINE Borough Council is hosting a Community Dialogue exploring the experience of some of those who have suffered during the years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
WAVE Trauma Centre and the Centre for Media Research from the University of Ulster have created ‘Unheard Voices’, a collection of six powerful short films. These films tell the stories of those who have lost someone or who have been injured permanently as a result of the Northern Ireland conflict.
This event is a continuation of Council’s programme of Community Dialogues, which has been part of their Good Relations Strategy since 2007.
Joy Wisener, Council’s Good Relations Officer, said: “The Troubles have exacted a high price for many people in Northern Ireland and beyond. There has been recent discussion about ‘storytelling’ as one of the ways that our society might address its violent past.
“While policy makers address the difficult tasks of public acknowledgement and truth recovery, these short films gently work their way into your thoughts by asking you to listen to the voices that are often not heard.
“The films present poignant reflections on a range of experiences, as survivors and relatives engage with the themes of loss, recovery, justice and remembering.
“The screening will be followed by a discussion so that those attending can meet some of the people featured in the film. It will give them the opportunity to discuss their stories, the impact the film has on those watching and the process of being involved in the making of this production.”
The event is open to everyone and will be held in The Lodge Hotel, Coleraine on Wednesday, March 28 from 7.00pm to 9.00pm.
Light refreshments will be served. Everyone welcome, to confirm attendance please contact Zara Curry, Coleraine Borough Council, Tel. 028 70347032.
March 27 2012
Funding which supports 6,000 victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland is due to end this month.
Hundreds of callers are contacting the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund (NIMF) every day worried about the future. The money covers chronic pain management, disability and education and training awards.
The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has not confirmed whether funding worth around £3 million next year for individual victims will be renewed, a representative of the fund said.
A spokesman for the Memorial Fund said: “We have been advised that the NIMF will continue into 2012/13 in the interim period until the new victims and survivors’ service is fully operational but have not received confirmation of our funding for 2012/13.
“We understand that this is currently under urgent negotiation with OFMDFM.”
The money, typically up to £2,000 per applicant, involves financial assistance for a break away for carers, chronic pain management, disability awards, education and training awards.
Those benefiting are victims of the Troubles, bereaved or injured. With more than 40,000 people injured and 3,700 deaths, the organisation helps only a minority. It has been in existence for 13 years.
The fund is due to be run on an interim basis until it and the Community Relations Council, which deals with organisations, are subsumed into a single victims and survivors’ service.
Representatives of the fund are due to give evidence to the OFMDFM Stormont scrutiny committee on Wednesday.
LOCAL people affected by violence during the Troubles have shared their personal and tragic experiences with others during an exchange programme.
Around 30 members of South Down Action for Healing Wounds group visited Lisnaskea in Fermanagh to speak about and listen to experiences of terrorism.
After receiving funding from the Community Relations Council, the local group organised the trip to the South East Fermanagh Foundation, where they watched a DVD of the Fermanagh group’s members recounting their tragic tales.
The DVD is complemented by a book of the same title, and both tell of the extreme pain, loss and heartache caused by the IRA attacks on members of the SEFF group.
The group also took part in a border trail – a tour along the roads and lanes of the surrounding area where many attacks took place.
The local group’s Spokesman Gavin Hughes said it was an emotional experience.
“The Trail was a very moving experience, with many of our own members able to relate to the circumstances, and we were given a real sense of how terrible it had been for these folk, living in the area in the past,” he said.
“The tour finished with a visit to the memorial built by the SEFF group, which is based in the grounds of the Holy Trinity Church of Ireland, Lisnaskea. The well thought-out and poignant memorial pays respect to those who paid the ultimate price, and lost their lives serving their country.”
He also paid tribute to groups such as the Fermanagh foundation, for the work they are doing with victims.
“Groups like these are doing so much to meet the needs of often forgotten or neglected innocent victims of terrorism in our society. In many cases these Victim Support Groups are the only place where these folk feel they can receive help and support. It is essential this work is funded and maintained to provide the continued support in this area, with government provision of necessary funding and vital support.”
The South Down group thanked their Fermanagh counterparts for their time and the Community Relations Council for their funding.
9 Mar 2012
Many people who lost limbs or suffered serious injuries in Northern Ireland’s Troubles feel forgotten in the peace process, a new study suggests.
Compensation has been exhausted and led to almost universal dependency on benefits, according to the report from the University of Surrey.
A woman who lost her legs in the 1972 Abercorn bomb and a woman shot by the INLA attended the launch of the study.
The report’s author said it was the first report to focus on the injured.
Professor Marie Breen-Smyth, chair in International Politics at the university, said: “When we think of the impact of violence, very often we focus on those killed.
“Yet for those injured, the effects of their injuries last for the rest of their lives, and also impacts on the lives of their families and carers.”
The professor said many injured people felt forgotten.
“We hope our work will focus attention on their situation,” she said.
The severely injured people who took part in the study reported a number of challenges to their physical and emotional well-being:
• A lack of pension rights due to past difficulties such as prejudice when trying to enter the work-force;
• High levels of anxiety about the government’s review of disability benefits, and the implications for them, given obstacles they would face in finding employment if refused benefits;
• An ongoing struggle with pain management and a sense of not having their pain taken seriously;
• Encountering a “no smoke without fire” prejudice if they were shot in the Troubles, based on an erroneous assumption that they must have been doing something to deserve being shot or in many cases there were no prosecutions of those who caused the injury;
• Some injured people met their attacker in their local area, causing increased levels of distress.
7 February 2012 08:32
A STORMONT minister has slammed the Irish Government for issuing eight months of “holding replies” to requests for a meeting with IRA victims – while giving “almost immediate access” to other Troubles victims.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said yesterday that he had been “continuously” asking for a meeting with the Taoiseach’s office for eight months, but to no avail. He is requesting Enda Kenny meet the families of 10 Protestant workmen murdered by the IRA at Kingsmills in south Armagh in 1976.
In November, the Taoiseach angered many unionists when, on his first visit to Belfast as Irish premier, he pledged to back a campaign for a full public inquiry into the UFF murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
At the time, former UUP leader Lord Empey said Mr Kenny was ignoring “thousands” of Ulster people who will have no inquiry into the murders of their loved ones.
Yesterday, Lord Empey’s party colleague Mr Kennedy lost patience and went public to complain that he had not been able to secure a meeting with the Taoiseach for border IRA victims, despite trying since June 2010.
“I am getting increasingly concerned that there has not been a definite date pencilled in or confirmed for the meeting,” Mr Kennedy told the News Letter.
“And I have obviously seen that other people can gain almost immediate access on ‘the past’ and victims’ issues.”
He first asked for a meeting in June 2011, after the publication of a HET report into the Kingsmills murders.
“I have been in continuous contact with the Taoiseach’s office and Department of Foreign Affairs ever since. And in spite of promises and holding replies they have not confirmed a date for a meeting. It is beginning to reflect badly on them.
“We need at least an acknowledgement of the failure of successive Irish Governments to deal with the terrorist problem on the south Armagh border. We need an expression that this happened and that it will not happen again.”
Last week, English MPs from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee were angered by Mr Kennedy’s insistence that the IRA campaign against unionists in south Armagh had amounted to “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing”.
A spokesman for the Taoiseach said: The Taoiseach met with Geraldine Finucane and members of her family on one occasion, during his visit to Belfast on 17th November 2011, immediately prior to the Aisling Awards at the Europa Hotel.
“The following day, the Taoiseach met in Armagh with minister Danny Kennedy at his request to discuss victims of killings in the south Armagh area.”