Belfast Telegraph

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson: Why I attended McGuinness funeral and not IRA victims' service

By Jonny Bell

Northern Ireland's Victims Commissioner has said Arlene Foster's attendance at Martin McGuinness' funeral showed how victims are willing to build bridges - as she explained why she attended the Derry service and not an IRA victims' memorial.

Mrs Judith Thompson was among mourners at St Columba's Church for the funeral service of Martin McGuinness on Thursday.

At the time of Mr McGuinness's funeral a service was held in Co Fermanagh for those killed by the IRA.

The service at Lisnaskea was attended by relatives of those killed by the IRA, including in the Enniskillen and Claudy bombs, and prayers were said by Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist ministers before a minute's silence was observed.

Asked why she attended the Derry funeral instead of the Fermanagh service, Mrs Thompson told the BBC: "I think it was said really well yesterday in the way that Arlene Foster was received in that room. It was a really poignant moment when she took her seat and there was a spontaneous applause. Everybody who was delivering that service welcomed her.

There is a historical spine that must be held... narratives around that spine need to be given equal authority   Judith Thompson 


"And when Bill Clinton said that he and everybody in that room knew that the Troubles had touched her in a very personal and painful way that's acknowledging the real willingness and ability of those who suffered harm to build those bridges as well as to expect proper acknowledgment of the harm they have suffered."

Mrs Thompson was appointed by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson during their times as first and deputy First Ministers. She said it was important that those hurt in the past can engage in a process that lets their voice be heard.

"There is a historical spine that needs to held. But there are also always different narratives around that spine and they need to be given equal authority, the proper authority and victims need to be right in the centre of that."

She said she "acknowledged the struggle" many victims have with the veteran republican's past.

"People have an immediate, emotional, personal deep connection to the most dreadful experiences of loss, of pain and harm," she said.

"Of knowing their father never saw them grow up, they never saw their children grow up, their grandchildren and people have an absolute right to their own feelings at this time.

"That is the first fundamental.

More: Martin McGuinness funeral: They came from far and wide... but Arlene Foster made toughest journey

"At the same time a lot of people are saying they are angry, hurt, their life has been changed and damaged also are saying we understand that despite our legitimate grievances to use Clinton's words, we can embrace a different future.

"And you embrace that future by talking with people who are not your friends.

"Peace is made by talking to those you have regarded as your enemies and peace is kept by talking to those you have regarded as your enemy."

Mrs Thompson said her office has been very involved in the political talks over the past week.

"My sense of it, my belief is, we have draft legislation on how to deal with the past that is what President Clinton talked about yesterday when he said, if you want to move this forward, grasp this opportunity, this is the bit you need to finish, the peace that is hanging, just close your hands around it and take it now.

"We have draft legislation for measures to look at the past in an investigative way that could be more successful than leaving our justice system to deal with it; Measure to deal with truth and narratives in more authentic way than currently dealt with; and measures to deal with victims - to provide mental health support, pension, and to deal advocacy and support to those going through historical investigation."

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