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21 May 1998 Edition

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Judging the victims

Sean O'Tuama examines how Kenneth Bloomfield's report downgrades victims of state forces

At a press conference in Conway Mill on Monday the Relatives For Justice (RFJ) group rejected the report of Kenneth Bloomfield, the NIO appointed `commissioner for victims'.

RFJ Chairperson Monsignor Raymond Murray, along with relatives of people murdered or maimed by the crown forces, expressed their disappointment at the `We Will Remember Them' report and criticised the appointment of Adam Ingram as Minister for Victims.

In the report, which was published last week, Bloomfield said that ``on a moral level'' the guilt or innocence of the victim was a matter for ``a higher jurisdiction'' than himself. But he went on to make only one oblique reference to all victims being equal before declaring, in over a dozen separate instances that crown forces `victims' are of `special concern', that they provided `selfless service', and a `service to their community'. At one point he describes the RUC, UDR and other state forces casualties are `innocent victims of violence'.

The RFJ conference was held under a banner that parodied the cover of the Bloomfield report; a couple were depicted sitting on a bench, while a British soldier and an RUC man sighted their rifles on them, beneath was the logo `They Wish To Forget About Us'. Fr Murray said that the report put justice `on the long finger'. Commenting on the meeting in early March between RFJ and Bloomfield he said, ``it must be stressed that from the outset we were not approached by Mr Bloomfield and a meeting only took place after intensive lobbying by RFJ.''

The Monsignor and several of the relatives present emphasised that for them the most important issues were truth and justice, both of which were ``sidelined'' in the report. ``That our members did not receive invitations to the launch of his report probably confirms our inclination that his report would not reflect our needs and interests,'' said Fr Murray. ``We were treated as second class during the consultation process and were deemed second class in the recommendations of his report.''

Fr Murray condemned the `League table of victims' in the document, ``some of the dead take priority in this report - British Army personnel, RUC members and prison officers are deemed appropriate for `special concern'.'' Even though, as the Monsignor pointed out ``they have killed over 400 people, tortured both physically and mentally thousands more, they have maimed others, including children with their weapons - all without fear of prosecution or having to ever answer for their crimes.''

When asked if he thought the report was born out of insensitivity or was politically motivated he said, ``it is avoidance of the truth. Call it political, call it immoral, call it what you like. It's all of these things.''

He spoke also of his personal experience of prisoners being ill-treated and tortured while he was a prison chaplain. Other members of RFJ spoke of their continuing harassment and attacks by the crown forces because they have tried to pursue the murder of their loved ones through the legal system. Emma Groves who was blinded by a rubber bullet fired into her living room said, ``if you cry out for justice you're intimidated by the state.'' Another woman spoke of having her house raided and herself and her children assaulted on a number of occasions by the Crown Forces when she sought justice for the killing of her 13 year son, Brian Stewart, by a plastic bullet.

Mark Thompson. whose brother Peter was shot dead by the British Army, wondered how impartial Ingram could be considering that the operations of the crown forces are included in his portfolio and he (Ingram) recently rejected a call by the UN for an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane and the continuing harassment of legal representatives.

``I'm not voting in the referendum for people like Ingram'', Mark said, ``they wish to forget about us, that's the motto for today.''

Concluding Monsignor Murray said, ``our members experience has been the active cover up of the circumstances, leading up to, during and in the aftermath of the deaths of our loved ones all in the active interests of the State and its forces ... interests which Mr Ingram is charged with continuing to protect.''

Mairead Kelly whose brother Patrick was murdered by state forces at Loughgall in 1987 told An Phoblacht, ``our request for justice is a main part of the peace process. We've tried to get meetings with Mo Mowlam and Ingram and have faced a brick wall. Maybe they hope we will just get tired and go away but we won't.''

She voiced the view of many of the Relatives for Justice that the appointment of Adam Ingram as the minister for victims was ``an insult'' and asked, `what is the reason behind it?'

``They have to open up every case of state killing,'' said Mairead, ``They can't forget about us, we're not a small minority. We will get justice even if it takes ten, twenty or thirty years. We're determined to continue.''

The Report - The Details

In the report itself the two paragraphs entitled Truth and Justice, which dealt with state killings, had the title in inverted commas thus diluting the legitimacy of the issue.

Also the Relatives for Justice had to fight to get a meeting with Bloomfield during his consultation process while relatives of members of the crown forces killed in the war were accorded the privilege of `house calls'.

Another category of victims that he refers to as having a ``special predicament'' are those excluded from Ireland for their anti-social activities and the relatives of people who have `disappeared'. However, those who have been injured or killed through state collusion with loyalist death squads, victims of the RUC's shoot to kill policy, those who have suffered in torture centres and the victims of internment barely merit a mention.

For example the loyalist bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, in which 30 people were killed is recorded briefly in only two places in the 68 page report. On the second occasion he admits that the relatives of the victims of that attack believe that it was carried out with the collusion of British Intelligence. Bloomfield is dismissive of this claim, despite the body of evidence to support it, coldly remarking that, ``I have no basis upon which to judge such allegations.''

Nationalist concerns are not completely ignored. On the bottom of page 64 one line is devoted to the possibility of a ban on plastic bullets. This idea follows several pages and numerous suggestions for a victims memorial. His proposed memorial ideas include: bursaries and funds for relatives of the state forces and their relatives; medals for ``all members of the security forces who have been injured as a result of terrorism.''

A `non-physical memorial' he suggests is the abolition of all remission for all political prisoners. Scholarships are also mentioned as an appropriate memorial but only for ``carefully chosen'' young people.

The possibility of a Truth Commission is proposed earlier in the report before being quickly consigned to some vague political arena.

Also the breakdown of the £10m fund for the victims of the last thirty years announced by the British government last week is no doubt inspired by Bloomfield's report. £5 million of the money will go to the RUC; they constitute only 10% of the victims but are to be awarded 50% of the funds. Those who have been victimised by the RUC and other crown forces over the same thirty year period have to date received a mere quarter of a million pounds from the British state forces.

Any victim of state violence, or indeed any Nationalist or Republican, reading this report will quickly find themselves, their concerns and rights, fading into insignificance.

An Phoblacht
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