Kenny Donaldson is a man I sometimes find hard to understand. He is part of or perhaps leads an organization called ‘Innocent Victims United’. Yesterday I was on the radio talking with him and Alan McBride about whether someone with a criminal record should be allowed on the Northern Ireland Victims Forum.
Kenny believes they should not, on the grounds that they might be sitting alongside someone who had lost a loved one to violence. It seems to me that this raises a number of problems, none of which Kenny dealt with satisfactorily on yesterday’s discussion.
- What if you had a ‘criminal’ past – that is, you were a former paramilitary, whether loyalist or republican, and had lost a loved one to the violence. Does your paramilitary past mean your dead loved one assumes a lower status and you can’t be included on the Victims Forum?
- What if you had a ‘criminal’ past but hadn’t been a paramilitary? We know through reading books such as Anne Cadwallader’s Lethal Allies that many members of the RUC and the UDR colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the death of innocent Catholics. Would such a person be excluded from the Victims Forum? Because I couldn’t quite understand what Kenny was saying on radio, I have to assume that he would bar such people – RUC /UDR colluders – from the Victims Forum.
- Which raises the central question about who had and who hadn’t a ‘criminal’ past. Republican paramilitaries served thousands of years in prison for their activities. As a result, someone from that branch of society could be easily identified and excluded, using Kenny’s criteria. Relatively few – in fact very very few – members of the state forces served prison sentences. As a result, very very few have a ‘criminal’ record. But we know that hundreds of Catholics died as a result of their actions: sometimes openly, as in the Ballymurphy massacre or on Bloody Sunday, sometimes covertly, as with the Glenanne gang.
What we’re left with is a great number of republican paramilitaries who can be blocked, using Kenny’s criteris; and a great number of state forces who will not be blocked, according to Kenny’s criteria.
And of course his criteria are constructed from a shaky premise: that during the Troubles, the bad guys were the paramilitaries and the good guys were the state forces. It’s a neat and comfortable way to view the past but it has one drawback: it’s not true.
Finally, it’s important to note that Kenny’s criteria exclude any notion that people can change. Once a violent paramilitary, always a violent paramilitary. You have a past which I disapprove of? Sorry, you can’t have a future which I approve of.
If you’re really concerned with innocent victims, Kenny, drop the high moral tone and rearrange those criteria.