Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Victims' Commissioner found herself in a no-win situation

Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone has faced calls to consider her position
Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone has faced calls to consider her position

There was no way Victims' Commissioner Kathryn Stone could give an answer which would have avoided a barrage of criticism. Jim Allister may insist that she's bound by the definitions and interpretations set out in the Terrorism Act 2000, yet the fact is that a substantial number of people – not to mention Sinn Fein and the PUP – don't regard the IRA and UVF as terrorists.

It has proved impossible to reach inter-party agreement about where terrorists end and victims begin. Indeed, the failure to agree a definition has dogged the political/peace process since 1998. In April this year the newly launched Innocent Victims United produced a charter (supported by TUV, UUP and DUP) which called for "the development of a definition of victim/survivor of terrorism that would apply to all innocent victims and survivors of terrorism." That definition has yet to appear: and it probably won't appear because they will find it impossible to define terrorism.

But shouldn't the Victims' Commissioner be in a position to state if an organisation proscribed by the Terrorism Act (and that includes the IRA and UVF) is, in her opinion, a terrorist organization? On the face of it, yes, she should. But she represents those injured and killed by the security forces and they, too, regard themselves as victims. It's a never-ending circle

Interestingly, Ann Travers, who sided with Allister on his Spads Bill, has sided with Stone, arguing that she has to "represent all as laid out by the law... and that the definition of a victim can be looked at again by politicians and legislators".

Stone's responsibility is to all who regard themselves as victims, yet even many of them differ on who are terrorists.

Even if Stone resigned she wouldn't take the problem with her, because the problem is not of her making. It's a bit like the Parades Commission, with each side wanting it to support their interpretations and definitions.

A possible solution would be the creation of a Conflict Commission, charged to examine very specific definitions. But politicians need to stop blaming commissioners, who only exist because the politicians failed to agree a solution.

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