Victims of the Troubles: should they decide the punishment?

It’s probably not unique. There likely are parts of the world where, when the judge has passed sentence on the guilty party, he/she turns to the victim or a relative of the victim and asks “Any other punishment you’d like to add?” There may even be countries which sign international treaties and then ask some (although not all) of those  who’ve suffered – “Even though the terms of the treaty have been fixed and ratified years ago by both sides, would you like us to change it in some way?”
That’s essentially what has happened with Jim Allister’s bill in Stormont yesterday. Even though the terms regarding those involved in the conflict have been agreed,  that will now change so that anyone with a prison sentence longer than five years will find it difficult if not impossible to be hired as a political advisor. To give Jim Allister his credit, he’s probably thinking of the pain the victims feel and how appointment of someone as a political advisor might add to that pain. He’s less likely to be thinking with his barrister brain about the notion that democratically-determined rules will change at the behest of the victim. 
But why stop at political advisors? Why not block the path of ex-prisoners towards other kinds of work?  Stop them becoming taxi-drivers (oh, right – they’ve blocked that already,  you say?),  stop them becoming teachers or accountants or dentists or doctors?  Or even politicians….Whoa, whoa. That doesn’t fit. There are a number of politicians in Stormont, from the Deputy First Minister down, who make no secret of their paramilitary involvement in the past. Shouldn’t there be a campaign to have them removed? They didn’t all serve five years and more of prison sentences but that’s probably only because they weren’t caught. They’re all Shinners anyway, so to have them removed would serve a dual purpose: cater to the pain of the victims – or at least the victims of republican violence –  and at the same time get us back much nearer the old days, when a puny Nationalist opposition squeaked and squeaked again as the unionist majority steamroller rolled over them again and again and again. 
At the risk of repeating myself: victims are the last people who should be allowed decide how those found guilty should be punished. That’s because by definition they are victims and therefore would find it hard – in some cases impossible – to be dispassionate about allocating even-handed punishment. Nor should any group or individual, however much sympathy they deservedly elicit,  be allowed to arrange for changes to international treaties. In fact, for the reasons I’ve given, they should be the last people allowed to do so. 
If, however,  you think they should be the first,  you’ll have to make sure all victims get to rearrange what’s been agreed, not just those with the loudest voices.  Right?

19 Responses to Victims of the Troubles: should they decide the punishment?

  1. Anonymous March 20, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    It’s not the victims deciding, it’s the Assembly. Democracy in action.

    And all they’re doing is closing a loophole that allows those who’ve committed serious crimes to serve in the civil service as special advisers but not in any other job.

    There was no amnesty in the GFA. Former terrorists still have criminal records and need to accept the consequences of that.

  2. Anonymous March 20, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    In practical tems,how far will this bill go since it’s a private members initiative?

  3. giordanobruno March 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    I think you are misrepresenting this bill slightly. Victims will not be given any direct say in punishments meted out to offenders. They have lobbied their representatives, one of whom is attempting to get a bill passed. Fair enough, I think.
    What chance of it being enacted? Was there not concerns about breaching European law?
    It is an interesting debate about what ex prisoners should be allowed to do or not do.
    It is good for them and for society to allow them to rebuild their lives, but clearly hard for victims.

  4. Jude Collins March 20, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Giob – you may be right. Or wrong. As I understood the bill from Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster this morning, it will block anyone who’s been imprisoned for more than five years from working as a political advisor. Is that not the case? And it’s being done in the name of victims – one in particular, who was on RU also. Fair enough, as you say – people are entitled to lobby. But if the concerns of one victim are used to change what the GFA says, then that’s concerning. It’s also concerning that only those who are most articulate get to have their concerns acted on. There are a lot of voiceless victims out there – on both sides – whose concerns will never be anywhere near as prominent in the media.

  5. Anonymous March 20, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    Jude, the GFA didn’t say anything about the qualifications of special advisers or civil servants.

    Also this wasnt driven by one victim but by public revulsion at the appointment of a murderer.

  6. Anonymous March 21, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    This is where there are issues with the settlement of the Agreement,British soldiers who murdered civilians on the streets of N.Ireland are still walking the streets of the UK free men even though their names are known to the “authorities”,two soldiers Fisher and Wright were convicted of the murder of 18yr old Peter McBride and given life sentences but served very little time and were reinstated into the army with promotion.Remarkably their case when brought up in the house of Lords had no shortage of supporters from the esteemed Lords pleading their case for clemency stating N.Ireland was an extraordinary place(,of course we also know of the New Lodge six gunned down and no one ever brought to book,there is also the Ballymurphy Massacre of 11 citizens,no one as yet charged,the Finucane case,Rosemary Nelson,Bloody Sunday ..the list goes on and on.Republican ex-combatants are vilified for life not just affecting their lives but the lives of their families as the bread winner is very often unable to provide financially for their children thereby disadvantaging generations of former prisoners’ children,who in the House of Lords speaks for them.Sinn Fein should never accept the vilification ,discrimination and social ostracizing of young men who were caught up in the events after 1969 arrested ,jailed for many years and criminalised by a very unjust and dysfunctional state that bore most of the blame for the onset of the Troubles. I say that about both sides Loyalist and Republicans,most of them would never have been inside a jail if NIreland had been governed properly from the outset so everyone has to bear some responsibility for what happened during the ‘Troubles”.If Sinn Fein cannot rectify these injustices then I am afraid it is quite apparent that the statement there were no victors isn’t true when you look at who is dictating post-war policies and where most retribution is attributed.

    • Anonymous March 21, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      Blame the SDLP who sided Jim Allister, not Sinn Fein.

    • Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 4:07 am #

      You are right about the SDLP siding with a slurry stirrer like Jim Allister but if this discriminatory legislation is enacted then Sinn Fein should walk out of Stormont and make it an election issue,the SDLP will rue the day they sided with such an enemy of the Nationalist people.

    • Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 9:22 am #

      Sinn Fein can’t walk out or cause trouble every time a vote doesn’t go their way. Who with any intention of making the peace process work would do that?

  7. giordanobruno March 21, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    Anon 08:12
    So no notion of personal responsibility for our actions. We were all just ‘caught up’ in events.
    In the same way child abusers who were themselves abused as children should not held responsible for their later actions?
    Republican ex combatants, like loyalist ex combatants should be held responsible for what they did.
    And yes, before you ask, that applies to government forces too.

    • Anonymous March 21, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

      Well Gio you might know more about child abuse than I do but all I can say is I was referring to ex-combatants that had already served lengthy prison terms and paid their debt to society and in my opinion should be given a second chance to serve the community ,provide for their families and lead as an example to the young people coming up if that’s what they desire through public service.It seems the victors always write their version of history and by your rule of thumb we all know the following two esteemed British leaders wouldn’t pass muster,Margaret Thatcher could possibly have been tried for war crimes after the sinking of the Belgrano or Tony Blair for knowingly leading the UK into a war based on lies in which one million people were killed,200,000 of them women and children and a whole region laid waste.Double standards and hypocrisy abound.

    • giordanobruno March 22, 2013 at 12:25 am #

      Your post seemed to place the responsibility for the actions of ex-combatants wholly on the state. Which is why I ask, do they not have any responsibility for their own actions?
      If such ex-combatants are eager to serve their community, I agree that is a good thing. But surely you can see the potential problem in this for victims?
      Why mention Thatcher and Blair? Not the topic.

  8. Mick Fealty March 21, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    I’ve only got round to reading the detailed proceedings for myself today. I did start to blog yesterday but found too little in the public domain other than the usual interparty spin.

    Here’s my take:

    What’s remarkable is the amount of amendments involved in this, the very first, stage. I think Alliuster is determined this law stays up under any future appeals.

    The important part is the amendment that seeks to route any appeals by candidates in this political category through the Civil Service Commission rather than OFMdFM.

    This allows for a successful appeal, but will apply rigorous examination of ANY individual case. SO, IT’S NOT A BLOCK as such.

    What interests me though is the way this issue segments the Catholic vote. SF could not have anticipated in advance the power of Anne Travers public witness.

    But the fact that she’s Catholic, nationalist and middle class makes it hard for the SDLP to acquiesce in the way they did in Dungannon over Gerry McGeough.

    That’s a strong motive not just to tough it out. It matters too to them that they have the power to effect change (as opposed to no change) because SF are short by just one vote.

    Power matters. It matters most of all to voters who eventually will give up on political parties which show no appetite for using what they have when the right occasion presents itself.

    A big fat public row might just be the thing to remind nationally minded folk that you don’t have to retrospectively endorse murder in order to call yourself a nationalist.

    It remains to be seen if they will or not.

    • Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 2:40 am #

      Demanding equal employment rights for ex-political prisoners is by no means “retrospectively endorsing murder”.Anyone that ever read the case of Mary Travers and her Dad being killed cannot help but be horrified ,saddened and disgusted at the cruelty of the crime but in the interest of moving the peace process forward it is important that those ex-prisoners are free to serve their community .I think the Nationalist are more forgiving than some people think,they tend to look at the bigger picture and know that there were horrible crimes perpetrated by all sides,let he is without sin cast the first stone.Someone that is remorseful and repentant deserves another chance and for the record I have been reading Fealty’s blog (sluggerotoole)for years and not once have I ever seen anything critical of crimes the British Army or RUC/PSNI.UDR,SAS committed against the Nationalist/Republican community.All of us carry flashbacks of the “troubles” whether it be seeing the body of my 17yr old college roommate shot down on Bloody Sunday or the brains of my 7 year old neighbour lying on the side of the road after being crushed up against a wall by a British soldier driving an army truck,there is a litany of horrendous crimes committed during the troubles that affected most of us deeply but without forgiveness there can’t be the freedom and oxygen to move to a semblance of a normalised healthy society.

  9. Mick Fealty March 22, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    How is it an ‘equal employment right’ to exempt SPADs from the same screening as civil servants?

    The point of this legislation, as I understand it, is to make sure anyone turned down will be able to avail themselves of the same appeal processes that are available to all civil servants.

    Anyone who is genuinely ‘remorseful and repentant’ certainly ought to be given a chance. It is also my understanding is that one of the aims of this legislation is to enable that to happen.

    As for forgiveness, that’s in the gift of individuals. It cannot be demanded or bullied out of them. That’s exactly what SF have been doing by making such appointments: goading IRA victims.

    As I say above, the party cannot have known that the appointment of McArdle would bring Anne Travers out of her long dignified silence. But it did, and this bill is the consequence.

    I hope the SDLP stick to their guns on this one. It’s an issue that deserves a wider public debate/understanding. Mr Allister’s bill does not put the decision into the hands of the victims.

    But its enactment will demonstrate a modicum of respect for those who were badly affect by the Troubles be they Protestant, Catholic or Dissenter.

    As for your charge against Slugger, try this: or search on Finucane, Ballymurphy, or McGurks?

  10. Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Anonymous 02 40
    You say above”in the interest of moving the peace process forward,it is important that those ex-prisoners are free to serve the community”.Perhaps you would enlarge on that.The “peace process” is ritually trotted out by Sinn Fein as if they had a monopoly on its development .Other people such as Fr Alex Reid,John Hume and the British and Irish governments also played their part.What are the criteria for being a Sinn Fein Spad?Do you have to be ” favoured ” by the hierarchy in that party?Can ordinary party members with appropriate qualifications but without a criminal record apply for such posts?

    • Anonymous March 23, 2013 at 3:20 am #

      You would have to ask Sinn Fein that as I am not nor have never been a member of the party,I am just talking about equal rights for ex-political prisoners.

  11. Anonymous March 24, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Anonymous 03 20
    Have you any response to Mick Fealty’s post above?As usual he summarises the position more succinctly than the rest of us.

  12. giordanobruno March 24, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Anon 03:20 and Anon 08:57
    Far be it from me to criticise anyone for posting anonymously, though I know Jude scorns the practice.
    Could I suggest,though, using a moniker of some kind to avoid the situation where ‘Anonymous’ is debating with ‘Anonymous’.
    It doesn’t have to be your real name changed to Italian, as mine is,
    a simple John (or Jane) Doe would do.