Victims and terrorists: Should the Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone resign?
- 4 October 2013
- From the section Northern Ireland
Should the Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone resign, because she wouldn't call the IRA or the UVF "terrorists"?
On the one hand, the TUV's Jim Allister thinks so. On the other, Ms Stone thinks not.
If that sounds like a fence sitting summary of the controversy, it's meant to, as this was exactly the kind of "equivocation" - in Jim Allister's words - that got the Victims Commissioner in hot water.
Mr Allister says that, given that the Terrorism Act defines the matter, the commissioner shouldn't have failed to answer the direct questions put to her by the Newsletter's Sam McBride.
Ms Stone counters that she's striving for neutrality, as she tries to fulfil her remit to represent all victims and survivors.
For clarification, the 2000 Act defines terrorism as serious violence to people or damage to property carried out in a way in which "the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause".
Schedule 2 of the Act also includes a list of proscribed organisations, which includes the IRA, the UVF and the UFF.
The victims commissioner isn't the first and won't be the last to have problems with the definitions of "terrorists and "freedom fighters".
The BBC's Editorial Guidelines, for example, note that "there is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or terrorist act. The use of the word will frequently involve a value judgement.
"As such, we should not change the word "terrorist" when quoting someone else, but we should avoid using it ourselves. This should not mean that we avoid conveying the reality and horror of a particular act; rather we should consider how our use of language will affect our reputation for objective journalism."
The dilemma for Kathryn Stone is that, in seeking to straddle the gap between different groups of victims which take completely contrasting views, she risks representing none of them.
She wants to concentrate on the business of delivering practical services to people suffering from trauma or bereavement, although her critics may wonder if that's not the job of the OFMDFM's Victims and Survivor Service.
Interestingly, Ann Travers - who made common cause with Jim Allister over his Special Advisers Bill - this time came out firmly in support of Ms Stone on the BBC's Nolan show.
Here's a suggestion - why not appoint more than one commissioner so they could then each reflect the different perspectives of different victims?
Oh yes, that was what Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness did, appointments which prompted widespread criticism from those who regarded it as a wasteful use of public resources.