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Let's listen to victims' concerns

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 01/05/2015

Former head of the Victims Commission Kathryn Stone
Former head of the Victims Commission Kathryn Stone

The position of victims' commissioner in Northern Ireland is a high-profile and sensitive one. With politicians still in a quandary over how to deal with the legacy of the past, and even unable to agree on a definition of victim, it is vital that whoever fills the post can command the widest possible respect.

Originally, in a bid to ensure a broad representation of views, there were four victims' commissioners, but the post has been vacant now for nearly a year after the resignation of the previous incumbent, Kathryn Stone.

Interviews for a new commissioner are to be held next week, and one of those on the shortlist is Dawn Purvis, who recently left her post as head of the Marie Stopes clinic.

But it is her previous role that may cause her problems in seeking to become the new commissioner.

She was leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which has links with the outlawed loyalist paramilitary group the UVF.

To her credit, she resigned from that post after the UVF's very public execution of loyalist Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road in June 2010, describing the killing as indefensible.

She also has a good record of activism as a councillor and MLA, and she showed that she was willing to stand by her principles in taking on the role of leadership at the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast in spite of intense opposition from pro-life groups.

Yet her role with the PUP could well come back to haunt her. She may argue that she tried to wean the paramilitary group away from violence by giving them a political outlet, but the evidence shows that has not worked in the way she may have hoped.

The relatives of victims of the UVF, without doubt, would deem her appointment as victims' commissioner, if it came to pass, as inappropriate.

It is clear that dealing with the legacy of the past is a minefield. The victims of the Troubles were so widespread that it has to date proved impossible to have any cohesive resolution of their concerns.

Those responsible for the deaths include loyalist, republican and even state organisations, and anyone who has clear links with any of those bodies will find it difficult to find acceptance among victims' groups.

The remit for the job may yet have to be redrafted to take account of those sensitivities.

Belfast Telegraph

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