I still talk to my murdered sister every day, says Ann Travers as she takes new role helping terror victims
The sister of a teenage girl murdered by the IRA as she walked home from Mass with her family has said her sibling is her guiding light as she assumes a new role fighting for justice for victims of terrorism.
Ann Travers is one of four new workers appointed to the South East Fermanagh Foundation's (SEFF) advocacy service.
The Belfast woman has become a leading voice for victims since first speaking out six years ago about her sister Mary's horrific murder.
That was sparked by the appointment of Mary McArdle as a special adviser to then Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.
McArdle had been convicted of Mary Travers' murder.
Following a campaign supported by TUV leader Jim Allister, Ann got a new law passed banning those with a serious criminal conviction from being a special adviser at Stormont.
"It's something I feel very passionate about - victims' rights and advocacy issues. I am really happy to be here doing it," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I was just 14 when Mary was murdered and even then I just couldn't see that her murder could be for nothing. I always wanted to speak out because I was so sick of the status quo. We have got people who are deeply hurt and traumatised, very vulnerable people who need to be helped.
"I just hope that my sister Mary is proud of me as everything I do for victims I do with Mary in mind, because she was such a wonderful, compassionate, talented young woman who had her whole life ahead of her. If anything I can do within this job can help other people's lives be a bit better, then that will be worthwhile."
Ann revealed that Mary's murder tore her family apart, with her father being placed into witness protection and her being moved to a boarding school on the north coast, which she was taken to each week by police escort. She developed an eating disorder in her teens, which she now thinks was in reaction to the chaos her life had been plunged into.
"That was my way of coping with what was going on around me. I felt so out of control by what the IRA had done to my family, not only taking my sister, but also my whole family split up, my siblings all left Northern Ireland and my father had to go into witness protection," she said.
"I talk to my sister every day, especially if I was in a difficult situation, I would always say: 'Mary, help me out here, help me sort this one out'. And invariably it does help." Ann's first job was as a nurse at the Ulster Hospital in 1990 where the Troubles again entered her life when she treated a young man.
"A patient came in who had been shot in a punishment-style shooting in the back of his knees," she said.
"It just all seemed so futile to me.
"This is a young man who, whatever it was he was supposed to have done, people thought they had the right to do that."
Ann has also been a special needs teacher, and has raised five children.
More recently she survived cancer.
"I certainly understand what it is like to be in considerable pain and what it is like to live with depression as well, and all those other things that come from losing someone in a terribly violent way," she said.
"Whatever I can do to help anybody, I will. I am quite stubborn and I don't give up. If I don't get an answer with a phone call or an email, I will go and knock some doors and speak face to face with those in authority who could maybe help to push issues further.
"I think that we can't give up, we are always coming up against a brick wall, but you just have to keep on knocking those doors. Eventually answers will be had, the truth eventually will come out for all of us. Each one of us will resolve it as far as we want to go. It's very much led by each victim who is unique, every family is unique.
"I am very optimistic about the advocacy service that SEFF are offering, I think we have a fantastic team. My colleagues are really experienced and very compassionate people."
Kenny Donaldson, director of services at SEFF, said the group had secured more than £1m over four years from the Peace IV fund to provide a support service for families and individuals who are innocent victims of terrorism.
"In Ken Funston, Ann Travers, Peter Murtagh and Wendy Stewart we have assembled an excellent team who together will provide support to victims/survivors who have not previously been supported in this way," he said.