Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Victims' treatment is simply shameful

Geraldine Ferguson
Geraldine Ferguson

Editor's Viewpoint

The European Day for Victims of Terrorism was marked yesterday by a moving event at Stormont, and in other ways. They reminded us of the importance of reconsidering Troubles victims and survivors, and how it relates to 20 years of the peace process.

Considering the huge number of people defined as "victims and survivors", they have often found it difficult to make their voices heard.

There is no suggestion that San Francisco Mayor London Breed was aware that the European Day for Victims of Terrorism was imminent when she honoured former Deputy First Minister and one-time IRA commander Martin McGuinness for his "courageous service in the military".

However, her boneheaded intervention would have been equally offensive on any other day of the year.

Sadly, victims and survivors often struggle to receive the recognition of the suffering they endured - and continue to endure - rather than inflicting suffering on others.

Much of the official response to the victims and survivors, and to their needs, has been lacklustre. The different formulas for Victims' Commissioners, and the stop-start implementation of the structures to address victims' concerns have left them feeling powerless. Even worse, they may feel that they are somehow an irritant to the peace process, and that it would be better if they simply faded away.

Thankfully, many survivors have chosen not to go quietly. They include people like Geraldine Ferguson, whose son Sapper Patrick Azimkar was murdered at Massereene Barracks 10 years ago.

Another strong voice is that of retired RUC officer Mervyn Lewers, who was caught up in an IRA booby-trap explosion in Londonderry in 1988.

These people spoke powerfully at the Stormont event, their words a clear indictment of our society's treatment of victims and survivors.

We all, governing and governed, should burn with shame at our abandonment of them. It would be some small admission of how far we have failed them if, at the earliest electoral opportunity, we returned politicians to Stormont, Westminster and our local councils with a specific mandate to prioritise institutions and mechanisms to recognise victims and survivors.

The first such opportunity comes with local council and possibly EU elections (if Brexit is delayed) in May. However, there are two big questions - will our politicians rise to the task? And will we?

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