Victims commissioner right to tread carefully
Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone must feel that it is a bit rich for TUV leader Jim Allister to call for her resignation because she failed to label the IRA and UVF as terrorists. This is a well-worn diversionary tactic which UUP leader Mike Nesbitt also joined in. Everyone knows what the IRA, UVF or any other loyalist or republican group were guilty of during the Troubles. The issue is not defining terrorists but deciding who are victims.
That is an issue which the politicians of all hues have been unable to reach a consensus on. It is a very emotive issue. While everyone can accept that someone killed in a no-warning bomb attack by a paramilitary group is a victim, how should someone killed by the police or army – even if they belonged to a paramilitary organisation – be described? Would the political supporter of a paramilitary group – say a member of Sinn Fein – who was killed be more of a victim than an active member of that same paramilitary group?
Kathryn Stone is quite right not to stick labels on organisations, but to work towards addressing the continuing needs of victims. Victims campaigner Ann Travers sums it up well when she says that, while she has no difficulty calling the IRA or UVF terrorists, that really doesn't progress matters. Ms Stone has a delicate balancing act to maintain. Unlike politicians she cannot pander to the feelings of those supporters who shout loudest or hold the hardest lines.
Jim Allister does a fine job as a virtual one-man opposition at Stormont, and many will have applauded his fight to get legislation to prevent people with serious criminal convictions from becoming special advisers at Stormont. But demanding Ms Stone's resignation is a knee-jerk reaction which has no positive effect. It may go down well with some constituents, but the whole issue of victims demands a far more considered response.
The proper forum for that discussion is the all-party talks with Dr Richard Haass. But, of course, Mr Allister is not a party to those discussions, so perhaps he believes that this is a warning shot across the bows of other unionists not to go soft on the issue. Let us hope that Dr Haass can bring more order and intellect to the issue.