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.