Jude Collins

Friday, 24 May 2013

Alex Attwood and Ann Travers: judgement and compassion

Compassion - that’s what Alex Attwood stressed in that rather stressful encounter with the BBC’s Gareth Gordon yesterday. Alex was feeling more than a little tetchy at the time. He'd come from a  meeting with Ann Travers, the woman whose sister was shot dead by the IRA  29 years ago as it attempted to kill her father Tom Travers, a judge. As you probably know, Ann is on a mission, now that Mary McArdle is no longer a special adviser in Stormont, to have anyone who’s served five years or more barred from acting as a special adviser in Stormont. The SDLP has said it will not support a bill to this effect; Ann Travers has said that means they are "putting up two fingers to victims". Hence her meeting to get them to change their minds.

Compassion. Who could not feel compassion for a woman who has clearly suffered deeply since the day and hour that her sister was killed in 1984? However, compassion is one thing and judgement is another. The SDLP has already made a judgement not to support a bill precluding from special adviser office all those who’ve served five years or more. Ann Travers is intent on changing that judgement by drawing on the SDLP’s compassion. 

A dangerous mix. It is never wise to allow victims to make decisions about punishment, for the  good reason that they are victims. A victim feels the pain of loss and anger against those who have inflicted that loss; a judge is one who can detach him or herself from that pain and make a dispassionate decision on fitting punishment. If Alex Attwood or the SDLP allow Ann Travers to decide what the party’s views on this matter should be, they will have allowed compassion to over-rule judgement.

A final and important point on this. Twice yesterday in her TV interview, Ann Travers declared she was speaking on behalf of all victims, in her pursuit of this matter.  She’s wrong. There are literally thousands of people who are victims of the conflict here.  Not all of them feel that their pain calls for the barring from office of anyone who has served five years or more. Some of them feel the very opposite. Ann Travers has every right to speak for herself. She has no right to say she speaks for all victims. 


  1. Presumably your favourite party(Sinn Fein) never "allow compassion to over-rule judgement".

  2. What about the BBC Question Time programme labelling John O'Dowd as SF/IRA?


  3. The SDLP have taken wonkery to a fine art to the exclusion of politics. That's just one difference between now and Hume's day. Oh, btw, Here's the awful happening: http://goo.gl/5DZRz

    I defy any red blooded Shinner not to be laughing up their sleeves at this debacle. Most troubling from a Stoop point of view, is they seem to have had no idea what was coming.

    In rugby if you pull out of a tackle half way through, you stand a good chance of getting your neck broken. The SDLP are being taught a very hard existential lesson.

    Politics is in part about offering fit solutions, but also about telling a story that people want to be part of through the things you do, rather than the things you say.

    Compassion towards victims of terror is a compelling story. But it's not a story if in the end having raised hope you just sit on yer hands.

  4. A number of contributors have previously drawn attention to your
    approach to basic research, as the case of Ann Travers illustrates. You criticise Ms Travers over your claim that she said in her television interview yesterday that she was `speaking on behalf of all victims, in her pursuit of this matter.' The BBC Newsline programme is available online, and it is clear that what she actually said was that she hoped to convince the SDLP `how important this billis for all victims of violence', whether the perpetrators were republicans, loyalists or from the security forces. She plainly put forward her own view and at no stage declared she was speaking on behalf of anyone else. Her comments on UTV, also available online,were very similar. You concluded, ` She (Ms Travers) has no right to say she speaks for all victims ' The evidence is that you are being entirely unfair to Ms Travers.

  5. Anon 22:55 - I haven't checked but I'm happy to take your carefull- researched word re what she said, although I wasn't referring to Newsnight, I was referring to her remarks before/after meeting with Alex Attwood and SDLP. However, if she presents the bill she's lobbying for as 'important for all victims of violence', that suggests to me she's speaking on behalf of all victims of violence, or assuming that she knows the importance of the bill to all victims of violence. I can think of a number of victims of violence who would see the bill as important to them, but whereas Miss Travers would see the importance attaching to its being realised in law, they would see it important that that very thing should not happen. In the end I'm afraid Ann, whatever the exact wording, has suggested her crusade is one on behalf of all victims. Not so, I'm afraid.

  6. Mick - as ever I feel my blog is honoured by your thoughts (that's not ironic, by the way). I think your rugby analogy is accurate, although I wince at the very thought of it. Certainly Alex's demeanour towards Gareth Gordon after the meeting suggested that he was feeling a pointed shaft was being applied to some part of him. IMHO (I think I've got that right), the various restrictions re employment placed on ex-prisoners is a bit like the way Germany was cabin'd, cribbed and confined after the First World War: defeat was not enough, the defeated must be punished on an ongoing basis. So too with the various restrictions between ex-prisoners and possible employment. Ann Travers's bill would simply add to that. Even on grounds of strategy rather than justice, it's not a good idea to keep on punishing someone - ultimately counter-productive.

  7. Have any perpetrators of state violence ever served 5 years in prison?

  8. Jude, you originally wrote `Ann Travers declared she was speaking on behalf of all victims, in her pursuit of this matter', and you went on to directly criticise her for making such a claim. You now cheerfully admit that she made no such declaration and you had not checked what she actually said before launching your attack. You may feel that a certain implication could be put on her comments, but, if you are going to condemn someone,it is reasonable to expect that you would make an effort to quote them accurately. If you had engaged in some research, you would also have found that the programme which carried her interview is called Newsline and not Newsnight.

  9. Anon 12:41 - yes I know, I'm a disgraceful blogger with sloppy research - couldn't agree more.I don;t know why you waste your time reading me. But just for the record, at no point have I ever condemned Ann Travers. I think she is indeed a victim and has suffered hugely and continues to do so. She has my total sympathy for that. Anyway, you'll see above that I've conceded totally to your superior researching. And of course you're right about Newsline - how could I ever confuse it with Newsnight? Maybe consider that a rhetorical question. Just a final point: my original piece was inspired by a victim who expressed exception to having Ann Travers speak for all victims. But my thanks for your thoughts. And of course your research as well. I am appallingly bad.

  10. You may also want to change Ann's name in your second paragraph from 'McArdle' to
    Travers'. An unintentional slur I appreciate completely but one I'm sure you'll want to fix.


  11. Average joe - My thanks for pointing out my sloppy error. I've attended to it. Go raibh maith agat aris.