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Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland)

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the definitions of victims and survivors for the purposes of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and related legislation; and for connected purposes.

The current definition of a victim and survivor in Northern Ireland, and specifically the definition contained in the 2006 order, is a matter of controversy and is not accepted by the vast majority of innocent victims and survivors in Northern Ireland. Why is it unacceptable? In every conflict there are two sides, but in the case of Northern Ireland the previous Government determined that anyone affected by the troubles, either through the loss of a loved one or through psychological trauma or physical injury, would be defined as a victim and survivor. In effect, that means that innocent victims are equated with those who joined illegal terrorist organisations and went out to commit murder and destruction in Northern Ireland, and indeed in other parts of the United Kingdom, because I am minded that not all the victims of terrorist violence relating to Northern Ireland were in Northern Ireland. One thinks of the victims of outrages in Birmingham, Manchester, here in London, in Guildford and in Brighton, where the IRA sought to murder the Prime Minister of the day and members of her Cabinet. That was an act not only of terrorism, but of treason under the law of the United Kingdom.

The reality is that today in Northern Ireland the people who perpetrated those acts of terrorism, whether republican or loyalist, or of any other affiliation, if they were injured during the troubles, or if through an act of their own commission they were subjected to psychological trauma or physical injury, are regarded as a victim and survivor for the purposes of the current legislation. I believe that is simply morally indefensible. It is deeply hurtful to the innocent victims on both sides in Northern Ireland, because we are talking about not only IRA atrocities, but those committed by loyalists. The notion that those who went out with guns and bombs to take innocent life are defined under the current legislation as victims and survivors is just plain wrong.

I will give one example. The notorious Shankill bomb was exploded by the provisional IRA outside a butcher’s shop in the heart of Belfast on a busy Saturday afternoon. Many innocent people lost their lives that day as a result, but the bomber, Thomas Begley, was also killed. Yet under the definition of a victim and survivor, Thomas Begley, who murdered nine innocent people that day, is regarded as a victim. I believe that is unacceptable.

Imagine the outcry there would be if the Government were to introduce legislation determining that those who planted bombs on the London underground and on buses here in our capital city, murdering innocent people, are the same as those they murdered and should be regarded as such under the law. Imagine the outcry there would be in this city. Yet in Belfast and in my home city of Lisburn the victims have to put up with that reality.

That has significant consequences, for example in dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. A few years ago the Eames-Bradley report put forward proposals for dealing with the legacy of the past, one of which was that there should be a recognition payment for the families of those who were killed during the troubles. Under the definition of a victim and survivor, the same recognition payment would go to the families of IRA and loyalist terrorists as would go to the families of the innocent victims. Consequently, on that issue alone the Eames-Bradley report fell. This has significant consequences for how we deal with the past in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, given that primary legislation is involved, not least the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which sets the broad parameters of the peace process and implementing agreements, we in this House ought to deal with this situation by amending the Act. We ought to address the hurt felt by innocent victims in Northern Ireland who feel that it is wrong that someone who pulled a trigger or planted a bomb is treated in the same way by the definition as their innocent victims.

To support that contention, let me quote from an e-mail I received yesterday from one of those innocent victims, Ann Travers, who has become quite prominent recently by speaking out on victims issues and who happened to become aware that I would be asking for leave to bring in a Bill today. She wrote:

“On the 8th April 1984 the IRA murdered my 23 year old sister Mary and attempted to murder my father”—

he was a judge—

“shooting him 6 times and attempted to murder my mother by holding a gun to her head, only for it to jam twice, while my family were walking home from mass. I was 14 at the time and this evil incident has affected my whole life. The men and woman who woke up that Sunday and chose to go out to murder can not be considered victims in the same sense as my sister, my parents, my brothers and myself. It is bizarre that we equate the perpetrators of murder along with their victims in Northern Ireland. After our sister’s murder, neither my brothers nor myself chose to get revenge by joining an illegal organisation. To put it in the simplest terms, imagine the following scenario: my family is attacked by the IRA, the gunman shoots Mary in the back, an RUC land rover pulls up and a policeman shoots the IRA gunman in the back. Is he a victim in the same sense as my unarmed sister? In my opinion, he is not. By his own free will and choice he created victims in both my family and his own. It is time, in my opinion, that all innocent victims are given the consideration and respect that they deserve.”

I can put it no more eloquently.

I believe that it is a travesty that in Northern Ireland those who went out with murder in their hearts to destroy innocent life are regarded as victims for the purposes of legislation and equated with those innocent people who were cut down in cold blood on our streets, and I include in that the courageous men and women who served in our armed forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the emergency services, and put their lives at risk. They, too, are innocent victims along with the many civilians murdered in the course of the troubles.

In presenting this Bill, I ask the House to give careful consideration to these issues, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will give leave for the Bill to proceed. This is an injustice that needs to be addressed. I recognise that there must be input from others on this matter, but we cannot allow this travesty to continue unchecked.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr Jeffrey M Donaldson, Mr Nigel Dodds, Bob Stewart, Kate Hoey, Lady Hermon, Dr William McCrea, Mr Gregory Campbell, Philip Davies, David Simpson, Mr David Nuttall, Jim Shannon and Sammy Wilson present the Bill.

Mr Jeffrey M Donaldson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 November, and to be printed (Bill 92).