Belfast Telegraph

Calls for new Victims Forum appointment process after IRA bomber row

By Cate McCurry

Calls are growing for a change in how members are appointed to a body for victims of the Troubles after it emerged a Provo bomber has served on the panel for more than a year.

Robert McClenaghan, a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum, revealed in a 2011 documentary that he was "immensely proud" of joining the IRA.

The victims' campaigner, whose grandfather Philip Garry was killed in the UVF McGurk's bar bombing in 1971, also said it was his "daily job" to plant bombs around Belfast.

Police have confirmed they are now investigating the claims from the documentary When The War Ends, which can be seen online.

Last week Jackie Nicholl (79) resigned from the forum after he was made aware of McClenaghan's past - a year after he joined.

Mr Nicholl's 17-month-old son was killed in a no-warning IRA bomb on the Shankill Road, also in 1971.

Members are appointed based on them meeting the legislative definition of a victim.

A spokeswoman for the forum said it is "made clear" to people applying for membership that it would be "likely they would have to work with people who had caused harm".

"Everyone said they could do that," the spokeswoman said.

Members are not asked for a criminal record declaration as it is not part of the criteria for the role.

She added: "In light of the current situation, the forum has had an exceptional meeting recently to reaffirm their individual commitment to being able to work under the principles and all have said that they can.

"In all of its deliberations, the commission and the forum act within the requirements of the general data protection regulations.

"The forum is selected by and reports to the commissioner (Judith Thompson) with a remit to share their experiences to inform the commissioner in the delivery of advice to Government.

"As part of the call for new members in April 2016, all forum appointments were made from a panel of victims and survivors. All panel members were under no obligation to disclose any other information other than basic monitoring data.

"All members were made aware of the inclusive nature of the forum and that its task is to engage in dialogue with all those affected by the conflict, regardless of background or personal history, and that the nature of the role may mean engaging with individuals who they may perceive as representative of those who caused hurt or harm.

"Each member indicated that they were content to proceed on this basis before appointment. Following Mr Nicholl's resignation, whilst not legally able to share personal and sensitive information, the commissioner held an exceptional forum meeting to engage with members and to reaffirm their commitment to this difficult job."

However, Kenny Donaldson, director of the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) victims' group, called for further background checks to be carried out on new members. He said some members are "vulnerable".

"No criminal background checks are felt appropriate for those being considered for appointment despite the fact that the forum is comprised of vulnerable adults, many of who suffer trauma-based conditions," Mr Donaldson said.

"There are a lack of checks and balances around people trying to be appointed. These people don't have to go through any form of Access NI check (a process where criminal records and cautions are disclosed appropriate to the level of check).

"All they have to demonstrate is that they meet the definition of a victim but there are people who come from a very vulnerable background who are sitting on that forum.

"Another issue is when exactly that information about Mr McClenaghan became known to the forum.

"People who have terrorist backgrounds have no requirement whatsoever to declare that but that needs to change. People play the law very acutely and I don't think that's in the spirit of what we are dealing with.

"There are questions as to how people can sit on a body with others and discuss these really sensitive issues."

Belfast Telegraph

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