NI victim groups kept in the dark about unrest amnesty
Victim groups in Northern Ireland and all political parties in Stormont’s executive say they are being kept in the dark about the UK government’s timetable to introduce a controversial prosecution ban for all murders during the unrest.
Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted last week that his fall deadline for the new legislation had been missed, but did not specify a new date.
The MP for Great Yarmouth announced his intention to introduce the bill on July 14.
The move united the Irish government, all the main parties on the island of Ireland and the victims’ groups in the opposition.
An artist behind an exhibition exploring the trauma and loss suffered by thousands of people during the unrest, presented for the second time at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, said she should be reminded that the pain of the past cannot be ignored.
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“It’s really about now,” said Co Down artist Colin Davidson, standing surrounded by the 18 large portraits that make up his Silent Testimony collection.
“Basically it’s about what’s left, what these people have to endure and experience right now as conflict erupts in this place.”
Each portrait represents a person bereaved or injured during the unrest. Topics cover political and religious divisions and include stories of loss in Northern Ireland, England and the Republic.
“I think in any case, I encountered some kind of inconsolable grief, unresolved grief, unresolved story,” he explained.
“People who in many cases were unable to live fully the rest of their lives because of the unanswered questions, because of the lack of justice.”
One of the faces that looms over the walls of the museum’s gallery is that of Johnny Proctor, named after the father he never knew.
While all of the murders during the unrest were tragic, the circumstances of her father’s murder are widely viewed as particularly cruel.
On the morning of September 14, 1981, Mr. Proctor helped carry the coffin of Alan Clarke, a UDR friend and neighbor who was shot by the IRA.
That night, the 25-year-old RUC reservist visited his wife and their five-day-old son in the maternity ward of Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt in County Derry.
As he celebrated a new life, an IRA gunman waited in the dark to end his own. As his wife June stood by his ward window, waiting for him to walk past and wave goodbye, she heard the gunshots that killed him.
“I heard the gunshots, I heard the click and I thought, what is this?” she said.
“And then the car came out of the parking lot and past the window I was standing in, and I thought ‘Johnny got shot.’
“It was very cruel, the fact that they waited for him and lashed out at him outside the hospital and waited for him to come out in the parking lot and come. behind him and shoot him in the back. “
On the opposite wall is a painting of Damian McNally, who was also stripped of his father.
Her father Paul, a 26-year-old Catholic, was shot dead in a random attack by loyalist paramilitaries in north Belfast on June 9, 1976.
Damian was only four months old.
He now works with the WAVE Trauma Center in Belfast, a cross-community support group for victims and survivors. He remembers the shock and trauma of the day he was older than the father he had never known.
“I don’t have any memories of my father, I don’t have any pictures of me with him or anything like that,” he said.
“I went to WAVE when I was 26, I think something happened in my head about outliving my dad.
“And then as you get older and obviously having your own kids, that’s when it really affects you because you think about what, it really hits you then, what you missed, what my daddy missed, didn’t meet his grandchildren, they didn’t meet him, so it’s kind of all of those life events that can trigger this stuff. “
June and Damien come from different backgrounds, as well as different parts of Northern Ireland, but share a bond of grief and anger over the UK government’s plans to end all prosecutions for the Troubles murders.
Forty years after Johnny Proctor’s assassination, an IRA member was finally convicted based on DNA evidence on a cigarette found at the scene. He only served two years in prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Despite her anger at the length of her sentence, June McMullin said it was important for her family to see someone held accountable. She is horrified by plans to deny the same right to other families.
“Families must continue to fight for justice and the government must wake up and give families their day in court,” she said.
“Everyone needs closure, everyone needs an answer. You can’t forgive these boys, murder is murder, you can’t do that.
“I sometimes think the British government would like the victims to go away, we are like an embarrassment to them.
“Our government is not doing anything for the victims. They push things into a corner and leave them there, hoping the victims don’t want answers and they will, they will fight. I would have fought for another forty years. . “
This view is shared by Mr McNally, who is angry with claims by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Lewis that the decision to end the prosecution will help people move forward by drawing a line from the past. .
“Most people know that the ability to obtain justice declines over time and that it’s going to be limited, but I think not even giving people some sort of response or some sort of process is just shocking, absolutely shocking.” , did he declare.
“The point is, people haven’t been given due process and no matter how long the time lasts the grief is still there and it will pass to the next generation so I think people have been completely abandoned. .
“It’s a statement I hate, about drawing a line and moving forward, because who’s moving forward? It’s not the people who are left behind. It’s the government, it’s the rest of society. , and you know, I don’t think it will help the company move forward. “
WAVE, the organization he works for and others who work with victims and survivors of the Troubles dispute claim through Mr. Lewis that there has been “meaningful engagement” on the issue.
All political parties involved in Stormont’s executive echo these views, saying they believe the UK government has made its decision and has no intention of listening to other views.
These other views include the Irish government, which has made it clear on several occasions that it believes the proposed legislation would constitute betrayal of the victims.
Mr. Davidson shares this view and is concerned about the message the bill sends to society.
“My fear and, you know, the reality of it too is that as a society here we are being told with this action that these murders don’t count. The loss of these people and their loved ones doesn’t count. don’t really matter. count, “he said.
“These are the people who I believe are paying the price for everyone’s peace in this place. A lot of people in society can go on with their lives and can watch the horror or the hassle of what the Troubles have brought. , and consider it to be something in the past.
“But for the tens of thousands of people living in this place, the past is the present for them. They live day to day.”
As the UK government missed its late autumn deadline to introduce the legislation, victim groups and politicians in Stormont believe it is a question of when, not if, to ban prosecution will become law.