Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Our politicians have a duty to help ease suffering of victims

It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by the ceremony yesterday in Fivemiletown, Co Tyrone, in which some of the victims of the Troubles, including four children, were remembered in a specially designed quilt.

Some of those who were bereaved gave powerful, emotional testimonies. These were just snapshots of the suffering that those bereaved by more than 3,000 deaths have suffered, but it shows the emotional toll that violence caused and the toxic legacy that it has left nearly two decades after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

There cannot be a hierarchy of victims, but the deaths of children in particular strike a chord in every heart that has a single beat of humanity in it. Those who planted the bombs or fired the shots that led to the deaths commemorated yesterday were devoid of pity or decency or humanity when carrying out their vile crimes.

Little wonder that the mother of one of the child victims, Donna Maria Barker, was so outspoken as she prepared to return to Omagh, where her son James was murdered in that horror bombing that remains the worst outrage of the Troubles.

She spoke of her hatred for those who planted the bomb and for what they did and the life of suffering they have condemned her to. Those were strong words, and not the usual ones we hear from the lips of the bereaved, whose ability often to forgive even the most heinous crimes is astounding and humbling.

But there is no doubt that very many share the sentiments of Mrs Barker. Why shouldn't she feel so outraged at the loss of her son that she can never forgive those responsible for it, and indeed hates them. Like so many others, she now realises that she will never get justice for her son's death, which must add to the burning grief.

And like so many others, she feels, justifiably, that society in general has let them down.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said recently that if the current talks to restore devolution fail again he will put forward proposals on how to deal with the past.

That is some sort of progress, but it needs to be viewed in perspective. It comes almost 20 years after the Omagh bombing, which itself came as Northern Ireland was embracing peace after three decades of violence. Victims have waited for far too long to hear how and why their loved ones died, and at whose hands. They may never learn all the facts but they deserve to be treated with respect and humanity, virtues sadly absent from our dealings with them to date.

This is a running sore that needs to be staunched lest it drips down through another generation and another.

Ideally, local politicians who know just how sordid and sorrow-filled the conflict here was are best placed to find a way of bringing solace to the bereaved, but they remain hung up on other issues which has prevented them going back into government for almost nine months.

Mr Brokenshire, in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, urged the parties to resolve their differences, but he hardly endeared himself to nationalists with his emphasis on the Tories' support for the Union and friendship with the DUP. While these are self-evident facts, a more astute politician might have felt they were better left unsaid.

Yet he is right. Local politicians need to make every effort to restore devolution and tackle the myriad of problems awaiting them. And that includes helping the bereaved to come to terms with the past they can never forget.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph