Belfast Telegraph

MP calls for victim redefinition

The law must be changed so that IRA terrorists are not granted the same status as victims, a senior unionist MP said today.

DUP member for Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson said it was outrageous and "an affront to decency" that the law defines IRA bombers in the same way it defines their victims.

Mr Donaldson told the Commons: "The DUP remains firmly of the view that you cannot equate the perpetrators of terrorist violence with their innocent victims.

"Yet that is precisely what the current law does in Northern Ireland under The Victims and Survivors Order."

He said: "This a law that the DUP is seeking to change and it is for that reason that I have introduced a private member's bill to change the law and that is due for second reading in December.

"My Bill would ensure that an individual killed or injured as a result of their own act of terrorism or convicted of a terrorist-related offence as defined in law would not be classified as a victim for the purposes of deriving any benefit from schemes designed to assist victims and survivors."

Mr Donaldson, who was speaking during an opposition day debate on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, gave the example of the 1993 Shankill blast.

Although one of the bombers died in the explosion, his accomplice Sean Kelly survived, and although jailed for his role, was released after serving just seven years' in prison.

"When convicted of this heinous crime, Sean Kelly was given nine life sentences. One life sentence for each life he destroyed, yet under the early release scheme that formed part of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement), Kelly was released after serving just seven years in prison," he said.

"That is less than one year for each life that he destroyed that day on the Shankill Road.

"This is an enormous burden for the families of those victims to bear."

He said the injustice was further " compounded by the fact that the law presently defines the IRA bombers Sean Kelly and Thomas Begley as victims, in just the same way as the nine innocent people who died that day on the Shankill Road are defined as victims".

Mr Donaldson described this as "an outrage".

He said: "It is an affront to decency and the rule of law, and it is something this Parliament should change."

According to Mr Donaldson the behaviour of Sinn Fein MPs has also added to the tensions, and he cited the example of a controversial decision to stage a republican parade at Castlederg in August.

He said the parade "witnessed a blatant glorification of terrorism by senior members of Sinn Fein".

Mr Donaldson added: "Republicans are trying to redefine what terrorism is.

"There can be no redefinition of what terrorism is in Northern Ireland."

Mr Donaldson said that despite representations from Northern Ireland's First Minister, Sinn Fein had not taken heed of the DUP's complaints.

Urging Parliament to support them, he said: "I can confirm to the House that our party leader, the First Minister, Peter Robinson, has indeed on numerous occasions brought to the attention of the Deputy First Minister the inconsistency, the double standards adopted by Sinn Fein. And the damage that it does to building community relations and developing reconciliation in Northern Ireland. And this is something that Sinn Fein need to address."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said that Westminster supported Northern Ireland's efforts to deal with its legacy issues, but warned that there was "no guarantee of success".

Repeating the longstanding position of the Government, she said: "This Government will not condone attempts to glorify or legitimise acts of terrorism and we will never treat the men and women of the police and the army, who acted with such courage and self-sacrifice in upholding the rule of law as equivalent to those who use terrorism to try to further their political ends."

She added: "Of course the Government is willing and prepared to play its part in dealing with legacy issues. But I'm also very clear that we don't own the past. The reality is for any process to succeed it must command a substantial consensus amongst the Northern Ireland political parties and across the wider community. So the Government strongly welcomes the initiative by the five parties of the Northern Ireland Executive to begin to take local ownership of this issue through the establishment of the Richard Haass working group on flags, emblems, parades and the past. Although not formally part of this group, the Government is fully engaged with it."

Ms Villiers said that Dr Haass ha d talks in Downing St with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister last Thursday "who gave their full backing to the crucially important task that Dr Haass has undertaken".

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis said victims and their families should be put "centre stage".

He said while the bodies of some victims had been returned to their families, others remained missing.

Mr Lewis said: "I think that in the same way it would be wrong to minimise the importance of the past, it would be equally mistaken to suggest that this is Northern Ireland's biggest challenge.

"In my view, the greatest challenge, frankly, is the corrosive cycle of poor educational attainment, worklessness and inter-general deprivation which continues to afflict far too many families and communities in Northern Ireland.

"It is a lethal cocktail which has the potential to be the breeding ground for extremists and perpetual conflict and instability. While these issues are primarily the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government has a key role to play in pursuing an active industrial strategy to generate jobs and growth, whilst also reflecting on the negative impact pernicious policies such as the Bedroom Tax have on the most vulnerable."

Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee Laurence Robertson criticised Sinn Fein's failure to attend Parliament.

He said: "They should be coming here to argue the case. They do travel to Westminster, they do have meetings here in this building.

"But they won't come here to this chamber to discuss the issues. I would suggest that is a tragedy... if I could suggest to them they are not serving the people of Northern Ireland very well in their abstentionist policy because almost a third of the province is not represented here in this chamber."

DUP MP David Simpson said: "In every sphere of life, people see things from different perspectives. Ask two people about an event they have both witnessed and you will often times get two very different descriptions of the same event.

"This is especially the case in historical debate and discussion... we are tasked with tackling issues that happened within the living memory of most people within Northern Ireland.

"History is and always will be a contested field and there will never be any agreement or agreed interpretation of historical events. This is the case in every society and in that regard, Northern Ireland is no different.

"Truth is not a relative concept and it exists independently of historical revisions or approach. Without the establishment of widespread acceptance of such truth we cannot hope to address adequately the legacy of pain and suffering that still exists."

Democratic Unionist William McCrea (South Antrim) said if the IRA believes it was fighting a war then senior members should be hauled before the war crime tribunal.

He told MPs: " If they say it was a war then Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris who on February 20, 2005, the then justice minister of the Irish Republic Michael McDowell publicly named as members of the IRA army council, should be hauled before the war crime tribunal for their acts of brutal crimes against humanity.

"Some suggested a truth commission should be enough to satisfy the innocent victims. Well, what would that achieve?When asked about the terrorist past Gerry Adams looked into the camera and quietly, brazenly denied he had ever been in the IRA.

"Martin McGuinness was exposed by the report into the events at Londonderry but he told the Saville Inquiry: 'I wish to make it clear that I will not provide the inquiry with the identities of other members of the IRA on January 30, 1972, or confirm their role played by such persons whose names are written down or shown to me, as a republican I am simply not prepared to give such information.'"

Unless the definition of victims is changed then Northern Ireland will never be able to move forward, according to Labour former minister Kate Hoey.

Ms Hoey, who is from Northern Ireland originally, stressed that the Northern Irish people must have the same rights as those in the rest of Britain.

The MP for Vauxhall said: "Would we accept it if in our constituency somebody who did the most appalling atrocity was then treated as a victim in the same way as the person who suffered from it?

"We just would not let that happen and Northern Ireland while it is part of the United Kingdom must be entitled to the same rights and privileges as people in the rest of the United Kingdom and that is a fundamental issue.

"Until that victim aspect is changed then we will never be able to move forward to that future we want."

The SDLP's Mark Durkan (Foyle) said the truth needed to come out about state complicity in the "dirty war" or Northern Ireland would have to settle for a "dirty peace".

He said: "Let us remember there are some members of the security forces that lost their lives in attacks that could have been prevented if intelligence had been shared and acted upon.

"But there was a warped game going on where some people inside the security forces and particularly in the intelligence services put the long-war intelligence game ahead of the immediate protection of life that could have been achieved both to protect the lives of civilians and to protect the lives of members of the security forces.

"Collusion wasn't just something where agencies of the state allowed loyalist attacks to happen, the fact is agents of the state also allowed republican attacks to happen and allowed servants of the state and the community to be killed.

"That is a truth that needs to be told because if we don't have the truth about the dirty war we will be settling for a dirty peace.

"If we don't have the truth about the viciousness and nastiness of all of the violence that took place from all of the paramilitaries then we will be settling for a dirty peace and we will be selling a very false narrative about the experiences of the past to future generations."

The motion, which set out to recognise "the deep sense of loss still felt by the innocent victims of violence and their continuing quest for truth and justice" as well as resolve to ensure "that those who engaged in or supported acts of terrorism will not succeed in rewriting the narrative of this troubled period", was passed unopposed.

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