One of the biggest Protestant campaign groups is refusing to join a new Victims Forum if it includes former paramilitary members, it emerged today.
Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) said the prospect of ex-republican and loyalist paramilitaries serving on the forum — to be appointed next month — would exclude many victims groups.
Director Willie Frazer said he had been sounded out about joining the long-delayed victims and survivors forum and had been considering taking part “in good faith”.
The four-strong Victims Commission is planning to appoint 25 members to a pilot forum, along with eight experts and advisers, who could develop into a permanent body within a year.
Commissioner Patricia MacBride confirmed the make-up could possibly include members of illegal organisations or former members of the security forces.
Mr Frazer said: “They can have as many terrorists as they want sitting on it because there will plenty of empty chairs, as no genuine self-respecting victim would give credibility to such a body. Our worst predictions have come true and our worst fears realised.”
And he hit out at comments by Ms MacBride, whose IRA volunteer brother was killed “on active service” in 1984, that no side of the community that can walk away “with a clear conscience and clean hands”.
“How does she justify these comments in regard to those worshippers gunned down at Darkley Church, or the workmen massacred at Kingsmills or the shoppers murdered on the Shankill road?
“Does she believe they were guilty, that they did not have clear consciences? What was their crime in her opinion or what had they to be guilty about?” an angry Mr Frazer asked.
Acting Commission chairman Mike Nesbitt said he had two private conversations recently with Mr Frazer, but intended to continue to respect their confidential nature unless Mr Frazer waived his rights under data protection.
“No one has been approached to sit on the forum. At present I am looking at a white board with 51 names on it, and that is not the complete list of potential candidates. I know my three colleagues have names they wish to add.
“I am actively seeking victims who are carers. So, it has no shape as yet. Mr Frazer, therefore, appears to know more about the Commission’s forum than the Commission.”
He said the Commission is legally bound to work to the legal definition of victim and survivor but an early meeting of the pilot forum, which will sit between September and June next year, would debate the issue.
“The forum will have a critical role as we develop new ways of meeting the needs of victims and survivors. We envisage its contribution helping shape our ‘needs analysis’ which itself will provide the evidence base for how the new Victims Service will allocate funds,” Mr Nesbitt added. “As next year’s budget should be in the order of £16m, this is an unprecedented opportunity for victims to take their views to the heart of the decision-making process.”