Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Like him or not... Tommy Crossan is still a Troubles victim

Tommy Crossan was murdered by a republican paramilitary group

If Tommy Crossan was killed by a republican paramilitary group, where does he figure in the hierarchy of victims?

If the organisation which decreed he must die and sent out a death-squad to do it was a product of the Troubles – and who can deny that the Continuity IRA falls into that category – wasn't Crossan's death Troubles-related?

Do those who have served as Victims Commissioners agree? If they don't, why not? The commission's website does not ascribe any role to them in the selection of "victims".

Are the relatives of Martin McCrory, say, gunned down by the Provisional IRA (operating under its cover-name Direct Action Against Drugs) entitled to avail of the commission's services? Mr McCrory was killed in 1995 by a shotgun blast through his living-room window in Turf Lodge.

Or how about John Collett, an alleged child-abuser shot in both legs by the Provisionals in his home in the Shantallow area of Derry in 1992 and left to bleed to death?

The IRA had been under pressure from local people to kill Collett. In a confrontation in the Sinn Fein office in the area a few days before the shooting, a member of the party asked in apparent exasperation, "What do you want us to do, then? Kill him?" There was a chorus of "Yes".

The need of the IRA to maintain its function as defenders of the community was one element at least in the motive for killing Mr Collett. The action arose directly from the Troubles.

Mr Collett had three children. Would they be welcomed at meetings of victims? Or interviewed on television about what they want done now?

What would the reaction be if they insisted that their father was an innocent man, shot not because he had been convicted of a capital crime, but on foot of a decision by a clandestine group with no authority, or mandate?

Mr Collett and the alleged drugs dealers who died at the hands of republican paramilitaries are included in McKittrick/Kelters/ Feeney/Thornton's Lost Lives, generally taken as the definitive roll-call of victims.

Did this quartet get it wrong? Or are the families of the executed drugs dealers entitled to be included in whatever settlement – Eames-Bradley suggested £12,000 per family – is finally agreed?

If there anybody calling for Mr McCrory and the others to be edited out of the next edition of Lost Lives? Not that I've heard. Would a person wrongly identified as a drug-dealer and killed by paramilitaries on that account qualify for inclusion?

Whatever the answers to these questions, to admit the legitimacy of asking is to concede that, contrary to the mantra of many politicians and analysts, there has been a hierarchy of victims in place since long before the agreement.

The Government endorsed the idea of a hierarchy in defining killings by "good" paramilitaries as "housekeeping". Giving paramilitaries free rein to discipline their "own" communities has been part of a twin-track effort to keep the same communities in line – the other track being the provision of jobs in community organisations, thus to enhance the position of approved paramilitaries as semi-official gatekeepers.

If groups which insist on continuing the 'armed struggle' and which are intent on bringing the agreement down are to be regarded – as the NIO and mainstream parties demand – as mere criminal gangs, are the deaths they inflict to be seen as resulting from gangland, rather than political violence?

Mr Crossan was apparently slain by such 'bad' paramilitaries. Does this enhance or subtract from his credentials as a victim?

Reaching agreement on the status of a paramilitary killed while participating in an armed attack on members of the security forces, or carrying a bomb into premises sure to be thronged with civilians, will be child's play compared to dealing with last weekend's killing.

Multi-party talks on dealing with the past continue. They will continue to continue. To consider the killing of Mr Crossan for even a moment is to realise that the talks are locked on to a course which goes nowhere.

There will be no agreement on dealing with the past, because there's no agreement on categorising what happened in the past. Deal with the past going back 45 years? We cannot deal with what happened on Saturday past.

The only way to proceed is to begin from an assumption that Mr Crossan and Mr Collett are victims, too. If it hadn't been for the Troubles, the overwhelming likelihood is that Mr Crossan would still be alive.

That's good enough for me.

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