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Victims advocate criticised by survivors of IRA terrorism for attending funeral

By Jonny Bell

Victims of IRA terror have criticised the Northern Ireland's Victims Commissioner for attending the funeral service for former IRA commander and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson was among mourners at St Columba's Church for the funeral of Martin McGuinness on Thursday.

At the time of Mr McGuinness's funeral a service was held in Co Fermanagh for those killed by the IRA.

The service at Lisnaskea was attended by relatives of those killed by the IRA, including in the Enniskillen and Claudy bombs, and prayers were said by Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist ministers before a minute's silence was observed.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Kenny Donaldson - from victims group the South East Fermanagh Foundation - said his organisation had been contacted by victims of terrorism who felt it was unwise for Mrs Thompson to have attended the funeral service for Martin McGuinness.

"We have been contacted by victims and survivors of IRA terrorism who felt that it was inappropriate for their advocate - a victims advocate - to be in attendance at the funeral of someone who directly himself, and also though the organisation he was a senior leader of, actually was the reason why they are victims," Mr Donaldson said.

He added that he understood why she did not attend the victims' service in Lisnaskea as it had been organised with just 24 hours notice.

Asked why she attended the Derry funeral instead of the Fermanagh service, Mrs Thompson told the BBC yesterday: "I think it was said really well yesterday in the way that Arlene Foster was received in that room.

"It was a really poignant moment when she took her seat and there was a spontaneous applause.

"Everybody who was delivering that service welcomed her. And when Bill Clinton said that he and everybody in that room knew that the Troubles had touched her in a very personal and painful way, that's acknowledging the real willingness and ability of those who suffered harm to build those bridges as well as to expect proper acknowledgment of the harm they have suffered," she said

Mrs Thompson was appointed by Mr McGuinness and Peter Robinson during their times as First and deputy First Ministers.

She said she "acknowledged the struggle" many victims have with the veteran republican's past.

"People have an immediate, emotional, personal deep connection to the most dreadful experiences of loss, of pain and harm," she said.

"At the same time a lot of people are saying they are angry, hurt, their life has been changed and damaged also are saying we understand that despite our legitimate grievances to use Clinton's words, we can embrace a different future.

"Peace is made by talking to those you have regarded as your enemies and peace is kept by talking to those you have regarded as your enemy."

Mrs Thompson said her office was involved in the political talks over the past week.

"We have draft legislation for measures to look at the past in an investigative way that could be more successful than leaving our justice system to deal with it. Measures to deal with truth and narratives in more authentic way than currently dealt with; and measures to deal with victims - to provide mental health support, pension, and to deal advocacy and support to those going through historical investigation," she added.

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