Jude Collins

Friday, 23 November 2012

Ann Travers, whataboutery and unique pain

David Dunseith was a man I had not just respect but affection for. He somehow caught all the political bits of mud that people slung at him and each other, and made out of them a forum in which people could maybe think again about things, could set aside or at least put on hold the fierce loyalties or prejudices or pain that they brought to his Talkback programme. However, there was one term David used which I think was misleading and sometimes diminished the  case a caller was presenting. The term was whataboutery.  You’re claiming A, but what about B. Or C or D or Z? David had no time for whataboutery.  

I think whataboutery is important, or certainly can be. For example, when the media and everyone else was weighing into the Catholic Church for the sexual horrors some of its clergy were guilty of, and the cover-up that followed those crimes, no one said “What about other sections of society? What about the BBC, and care homes, and even within families?” As a result, the horrors of society were piled on one back and all other backs apparently didn’t exist. How stupid and short-sighted that was is now becoming slowly and painfully evident. 

Which brings us - yet again - to the death of Mary Travers. Yes, call it murder by all means, if that’s how you see it and if it helps us focus on the point. Mary Travers’s sister Ann was on TV during the week and it would have taken a heart of flint not to feel for her.  Trying to cope with cancer, trying to cope with the loss of her sister in horrific circumstances, trying to get what she believes is justice in an unjust world: it seems like too much to heap on one frail back. 

But then, on Good Morning Ulster I think it was,  Jude Whyte rang in. His mother was killed - yes, call it that if you wish, or murdered - in the same year, in the same time-period as Mary Travers died.  Mrs Whyte was killed at her own front door by UVF people, probably with state collusion. Whyte still feels the loss of his mother - who wouldn’t? But his point on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh was that there are hundreds of cases like his and Ann Travers - hundreds of people grieving for a face and a hand and a voice that will never come back. But that the way we’ve stopped these losses is by coming to an Agreement that, while it’s more than difficult for victims - all victims - to accept, it’s what we’ve agreed on and that’s the price we pay for a fragile peace.  

I’m reading a booklet at the moment called The Pitchfork Murders. It’s about two young men - more boys, really - who were killed by a loyalist gang, again most likely with state collusion. It’s called The Pitchfork Murders because, initially, it was thought the two young men had been killed with a pitchfork. In fact both died by repeated stabbing with a 6” Bowie knife. There were no signs of resistance from either of the two, which suggests they were held by others while the killer stabbed again and again. One of the pair had wounds on his back and front, suggesting the killer stabbed him first in the front and then had him turned over, like an animal on a spit, so he could be stabbed on the other side. The killers have never been brought to justice; the state has never conceded involvement. 

There are hundreds of people out there bearing the kind of grief that came to eat into the relatives of those killed in the Pitchfork Murders,  the relatives of Mrs  Whyte, the relatives of Ann Travers. It’s not to take away from Ann Travers’s pain to say that she hasn’t the right to seek personal, unique terms of punishment for the woman who was involved in her sister’s death - yes, her sister’s murder, if you want to call it that. The woman involved in the death of her sister served time in prison, like hundreds of others, for what she’d done. And she was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. And the GFA said nothing about released prisoners not being allowed to be advisers to politicians in Stormont. If anything, the situation of released prisoners deserves thoughtful and sympathetic consideration, to help re-integrate them into society, rather than place further restrictions on their lives. And that’s all prisoners. 

So what am I saying in a long-winded way? That Jude Whyte is right. The only way forward is for all who have suffered to move on, accept the terms under which agreement was reached, and stop claiming that his or her grief is unique. What about all the other victims and their grief? Each and every one is equally unique.  


  1. If you commit murder then you should accept the consequences.

    A conviction for murder disqualifies someone from tje civil service and special advisers are civil servants.

    No special rules for special advisers, please.

  2. I suspect Ann Travers would not have caused the fuss that she did if Sinn Fein hadn't appointed M/s Mc Ardle to a Special Adviser's post.Many might feel that this was always going to cause additional hurt to the Travers family.It hardly showed sensivitity from a party which claims to be in the forefront of standing up for the rights of Catholics(a la Caitriona Ruane).

  3. I think the person IRA, loyalists and State actors fear most is the articulate victim....the McCartney sisters for example.
    Those of us a shy or nervous disposition but blessed with being educated and articulate would surely be emboldened by the loss of a family member. Im sure I would be "in the face" of those who had done me wrong.
    It follows that Ms Travers was an impressive witness and made Mitchel McLaughlin look uncomfortable.
    But a "victim" cannot really be cross questioned.
    Caral had a right to appoint Mary McArdle.
    She also has the right to behave insensitively and o be stupid. And Carals political opponents have the right to point hat out effectively.
    Apponting Mary McArdle was bad politics. A special advisor should never be the story.
    At least David Cameron could (just about) claim that he could not foresee a problem with Andy Coulson.
    Yet it was odd that Ms Travers appeared as a witness to the Justice committee just two days after that vote on Jim Wells.
    Was reference made to it?
    The point has been made on a mediocre neutral website that the vote on Wells was tribal. It wasnt tribal at all. The Alliance Party (not the most reliable neutrals) voted against Wells .....predictably DUP/SF backed their guy but the right thing was to vote for censuring Wells.
    The SDLP of which I am a member did the right thing.
    Of course the SDLP has supported Ann Travers. This might be held to be (a) the right thing to do or (b) opportunistic. Or both. Either way SF made a decision.
    Yet as far as I know Ms Travers did not turn round to the Justice Committe and say "I want to thank DUP especially Jim Wells for supporting me........and thanks to UUP for supporting Wells".
    Nor did she turn to SDLP and Alliance MLAs and say "You are evil.....I thought you were my friends".
    Simple fact..SF called the McArdle thing wrong.

  4. How do you square this with your demand for a Pat Finucane inquiry?

  5. Hi Jude,

    From memory, serving Scottish soldiers carried out, and were convicted of, the "pitchfork" murders.


  6. Exile on Mainstreet
    I think you could be right.If memory serves me correctly,the murder may have been committed in Fermanagh.Judes booklet can probably assist and clarify.

  7. Jude, you forgot to mention it was the British Army who carried out the "pitchfork murders" and that this was coverered up by the RUC.
    The truth came out during the appeal for information about the "Yorkshire Ripper". The TV appeal said that the "Ripper" would have a history of extreme violence in his past.
    A soldier who witnessed the Fermanagh murders answered the appeal.

    1. Anonymous, the RUC didn't cover it up. They brought the case to court and the murderers were convicted.

  8. Just stop digging Jude23 November 2012 at 23:30

    Well it's some kind of progress Jude. Previously you were telling us that putting a gun to a 22 year old's head outside church was something like causing death by reckless driving. Now it's "murder by all means, if that’s how you see it". Well thanks Jude. That is actually how most normal people do see it. Generous of you to allow us that.

    Anne Travers isn't "society". She's Anne Travers. What suits society may not actually suit her and she's entitled to say so. A moral society measures itself by the condition of the least advantaged, not by the utility of the majority. Shooting wee girls in the head isn't justified by whatever micrometrical progress you think may have been earned for that part of society backing the murderers.

    And the difference between Mary McArdle's situation and the pitchfork killers' is that despite her history as a killer of young women Mary McArdle has assigned to herself the right to continue to bring her worldview to bear on wider society. I'm quite sure that if the pitchfork killers turn out to be involved in our government you'll find the same revulsion. Maybe you could devote some of your formidable forensic reasoning to finding out if that's the case.

  9. I've no problem with the whataboutery line when it's deployed in the manner described by Jude above. However, for it to work in this case you have to believe that Ms Travers is making an exclusive claim for her and her own family.

    In fact, I've only ever heard her talk about her direct experience of pain as one of many. I've never heard her ask for exclusive privileges or deny anyone her support in getting to the truth of what happened to their loved ones.

    If the victim is not deploying an either/or operation here, it surely stands to reason she'd support the unmasking of the perpetrators of the pitchfork murders? I don't know what decent, moral, thinking person wouldn't.

    The reasons we can't are varied. Some of them enumerated by Jude Whyte on the View, aging of evidence, death of key witnesses, etc. More importantly, any collective move would have to come with political assurances no one really wants to give.

    The McGeough case demonstrates (if such were ever needed) just how vulnerable former IRA volunteers are to the long arm of the law, as it things stand.

    There is little incentive for the British to tip a bunch of 'get-out-of-jail-free' cards on the table and have them (and a whole bunch of monomaniacal Loyalist killers) walk off into the sunset, whilst the reputation of the RUC, UDR et al is dragged post facto through the gutter.

    In the meantime, the killers and relatives of the killed and maimed have to find a way of living with each other. It's a long lonely and hateful journey, whether you're a Finucane, a resident of Kingsmill, or a member of the Travers family.

    The best we can do (and it may turn out in the long term to be all we can do) in the meantime (in lieu of proper justice in any of these cases) is to treat all the survivors with some decency and respect.

    CF, as for the vote in Stormont, I heard little in that which discussed principle of the censure. I don't expect you to ignore the politics of the Travers case, but on what grounds did you plan to censure Wells?

  10. I think the blogger software may have snaffled my longer comment. If it hasn't please ignore this short precis Jude.

    Whataboutery is not appropriate when your opponent is not claiming either/or. Outrage with the church was justified, but the assertion that the church was a singular offender was one-eyed and in many cases rather selfserving.

    Anne would, I am pretty sure, be support of the families of the Pitchfork Murder victims, as she is to those who died in Ballymurphy/Springfield Park and ALL the others who died on those terrible days that followed the imposition of internment.

    The best we can do, in lieu of real justice is to treat all victims (regardless of their name, religion or political status) with proper dignity and not try to make political capital where there is, frankly, none to be had.


    I completely agree with that mediocre website you mentioned, and for one reason and one only: nothing I've read of that debate demonstrates a better explanation.

    But I'll happily stand to be corrected on that.

  11. Just stop digging Jude
    I don't see much progress in Jude's attitude I'm afraid. He is unlikey to use the word 'murder', given his view that it was war and terrible things happen in wars.
    Personally I see no comfort for him there.
    Even calling it a 'just war', does not excuse barbaric acts, in the same way that arguing for WW2 as a 'just war' does not excuse the bombing of Dresden or Hamburg.
    Jude's comment moderation comes dropping slow, making debate fairly ponderous.

  12. Jude;I appreciate you don't reply to anonymous posters but surel the great Mr Fealty deserves a response!

  13. Give her money such as the UDR got,

  14. Jude,we're still waiting for your response to Mick!!