Victims first? Addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past

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Victims first? Addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
13 August 2018

Queen’s University Belfast hosted a public meeting on the Northern Ireland Office and Secretary of State’s consultation on “Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past”. The event brought together civil servants, the victim’s group Omagh Support & Self Help Group (OSSHG), and many victims and survivors, who discussed how the legacy of the Troubles should be addressed.

Advocacy case worker, Nichola McGowan, and Cat Wilkinson, both from OSSHG, explained some of the difficulties and misinformation of the open consultation and some inconsistencies within the draft proposals:

  • the lack of focus to support those who have been left physically and psychologically injured in these incidents
  • the success of the mechanisms hinges on the cooperation of the Irish Government
  • how some forms of action and information could re-traumatise families
  • the need of verifying information
  • difficulties, especially for older people, to access information online and be able to participate in the consultation

“Quite a lot of our membership is an elderly one and the proposals that they have come out with are very difficult to understand for a lot of people who have been affected. There was a large drop-out rate in schools and there have been literacy problems as well, so we find that this consultation hasn’t been up to scratch,” explained McGowan.

Michael Gallagher, whose son was murdered by the Real IRA in the Omagh bomb, claimed that victims need more support: “There is too much money spent on buildings when real people are not getting the support that they need to get. We need to back to basics … This a service for victims and victims should have the benefits of that. We need a policy of victims first.”

Gallagher, who is also the spokesperson of OSSHG, emphasised how many victims OSSHG’s members are working together no matter the side to move forward. “We don’t ask anyone to leave their flag or their religion or their politics outside the door. All we do is to concentrate on the things that unite us, not in the things that divide us. All people were affected by the Troubles in different ways, loyalist paramilitaries, republican paramilitaries … Even now in Northern Ireland there are two sides; we need to try to build one side. We all are working together to move forward,” said Gallagher.

Tracey Coulter, whose father was murdered by the UVF, highlighted how frustrating it is when “someone else is making the decision for us [the victims]” and the need for justice, without which there is no possibility to move forward. “All victims and survivors deserve justice and time for us to move on. Because basically, our lives are stuck in holes. There is no moving forward for us until the justice is served,” claimed Coulter.

Michael Monaghan, whose father-in-law was murdered by UVF’s Gary Heggarty, wished an integrative future “for both sides of the community, Catholics and Protestants. I’d like to see people living together,” said Monaghan.

Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by the UVF, emphasised that the open consultation is an essential opportunity to listen to and understand what victims want: truth and justice. “We make our own decisions and for forty and fifty years we have been told what was right and wrong for us. This is to get justice,” said McCord.

John Teggart, whose father was murdered by the British Army in Ballymurphy, remarked how necessary it is “to learn from the victims and listen to the victims” and how important for victims and survivors it is “to be in the one room speaking from the heart”. “There is a story behind every face here and at events like this you will hear the victim’s side,” emphasised Teggart.

The solicitor Paul Farrell ended the event indicating the weakness and limits in law to address the Troubles’ legacy, such as alleged collusion with security forces, the loss of evidence, and the protection of some accused perpetrators. He highlighted the need for a legal framework to address legacy issues, with sufficient resources so that victims and survivors’ questions can be answered.

“It doesn’t decrease the necessity for us as a society to put the wrong right, because if we don’t put the wrong right and leave the victims abandoned and left at one side, [we’re not] going to get closer as a society,” said Farrell.

The public consultation closes on 10th September at 5 pm. The documents related to the consultation are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/addressing-the-legacy-of-northern-irelands-past

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