On Monday morning I was an hour late for work. I was late not because I slept in (I left in good time) but because of a hoax bomb alert on the M1.
While sitting in traffic which was either moving at a snail’s pace or not at all, a thought occurred to me which wouldn’t had I found myself in the same situation a week earlier – were the people responsible for this terrorists or even criminals?
I asked myself that question not because I am unclear in my own mind as to the answer but because of the comments of Victims’ Commissioner Kathryn Stone in an interview published last Wednesday.
I have heard people say that the difficulty Kathryn Stone faced was the perverse definition of a victim which draws no distinction between Thomas Begley, the bomber killed by his own bomb, and Mr and Mrs Williamson who were killed because they happened to be queuing in a fishmongers.
They are wrong. The debate has nothing to do with the definition of a victim. It’s about the definition of a terrorist.
Anyone convicted of a terrorist offence is, as a matter of fact and law, a convicted terrorist. Anyone who committed a terrorist offence and sadly evaded justice (as happened far too often) is a terrorist. Anyone who is a member of a proscribed organisation such as the IRA or UVF is a member of a terrorist organisation.
It’s not up to Kathryn Stone, the Victims’ Forum or anyone else to decide who was and who was not a terrorist. That is a matter for the law.
Ms Stone says, and I accept, that she is constrained by the legislation on what constitutes a victim. But she and everyone else in Northern Ireland is constrained by legislation which defines terrorism.
There’s nothing in her remit which allows her to pontificate about the law on terrorism. It is crystal clear and currently laid down in the Terrorism Act.
My first relatively clear memory of the Troubles dates from 1987 when the IRA bombed a Remembrance Sunday service in Enniskillen. Twelve people died while many others (including my aunt) were seriously injured.
A few days after the bombing my father, who on the day of the bombing had abandoned the Sunday school class he was teaching to go to Enniskillen to look for his sister, took us into Enniskillen to see the devastation wrought by the bombing.
The idea that, 26 years later, a “Victims’ Commissioner” would refuse to say clearly that those responsible were terrorists is, frankly, sickening
Let’s put it another way. Imagine you were the victim of a robbery and the person responsible was convicted of that offence. It would be outrageous for an official paid from public funds to suggest that it was a matter of debate whether the person convicted actually committed the offence of which they were convicted.
If that person held a position in which she was supposed to be an advocate for the rights of victims of crime there would, in the very least, be a large question mark over her remaining in office.
And don’t forget that Ms Stone went so far (on Radio Ulster on Friday) as to refuse to say whether duly convicted IRA and UVF terrorists were criminals.
So we have moved from a position where there is pollution of the term “victim” to a pollution of the term “terrorist” and “criminal” as well
There is nothing in legislation which should leave Ms Stone in any doubt about this. Quite the reverse.
That terms like “terrorist” have even become a matter of debate is a victory for those who committed terrorism.
The issue was already settled in the court room and anyone claiming to be “victim’s commissioner” should recognise that reality.