Jude Collins

Monday, 3 June 2013

The SDLP and victims

A reader of my blog yesterday noted that I hadn’t included Alasdair McDonnell’s statement where he made clear he believed there was a hierarchy of victims, and that Paul Kavanagh was “well down the pecking order”.

My commenter was right, and on reflection I should have focused on the hierarchy point, because today the airwaves are hot and heavy with that matter. Is there or isn’t there a hierarchy of victims here? And does the SDLP hold that there is such a hierarchy, or has Alasdair once more spoken out of tune with the rest of his party?

Dolores Kelly was on The Nolan Show  a few minutes ago, and when asked if the SDLP believed there was a hierarchy of victims, she answered by saying there was no moral equivalence between a bomber killed by his own bomb and an innocent child killed by the same bomb.

Either there’s some very muddled thinking going on here, or people like Dolores are deliberately trying to stir the waters so what’s going on can’t be clearly seen. 

Do I think there should be a distinction made between victims of violence? Yes I do. But it’s not between the hypothetical bomber and the hypothetical child. It’s between the person who dies (who clearly is a victim) and the loved ones who are left to mourn them and carry the pain, sometimes for a lifetime. That’s the most important distinction in the matter. The living are the victims we should be talking about exclusively, and we should avoid all ambiguity about that. The dead are dead and can’t be affected one way or another by anything we say or do. The living can. And you may be sure the mother or sister of a paramilitary killed in violent activity feels the pain of loss just as much as the relatives of those who mourn the death of an innocent victim. 

The question is, how does society or a political party respond to the pain of those who have lost loved ones in the conflict? Do they say or act as though there was a hierarchy of victims, or do they concede that the pain of loss is as sharp for the relatives of  anyone killed?

The truth is, the SDLP do believe there is a hierarchy of victims. As they see it, republicans who joined the conflict freely chose to do so, and to put it bluntly, got what was coming to them, and if their relatives mourn, they know who to blame. Republicans argue for a wider view, noting the corrupt nature of the state at the time, the violent response of the authorities to those who sought civil rights, and how such factors helped propel young men and women to violence in which they would otherwise have had no involvement. 

But I’d stress  again and finally: let’s talk about victims as the living, not the dead. We can’t do anything for those who are dead. We can do something for those who are alive. By showing greater concern for one grieving victim over another shows not just a moral insensitivity but a limited understanding of what happened here over the last forty years. 


  1. Lets cut to the chase here.Do you believe that Paul Kavanagh was justified in committing the offences for which he was sentenced subsequently ? Did he deserve to be rewarded years later with a Special Advisors post in the O F M/D F M office?Why in the eyes of Sinn Fein is he made out to be a victim of Jim Allister's Bill? In your logic above it was always the fault of "them 'uns".Those poor peace loving Republicans were driven to do what they did by the Big Bad State and they are not to be held responsible for anything !In essence you seem to be arguing that the I R A 's armed campaign was morally justified.

  2. Are people who were maimed and injured not victims?

  3. Do you think families of those who are/were murdered by paramilitaries for drug dealing are also victims?

  4. Your cowardly Anonymous correspondent fails to explain why it's OK for convicted British Army murderers [eg Wright & Fisher] to serve only 4 years [on full pay] and get straight back into the British Army with promotion.

  5. I'm from Derry the same as Paul Kavanagh and its only members of SF I hear whinging among themselves about the fact that he has lost his job advising McGuinness on how to be a good micro British minister. Did Paul advise Marty to shake hands with the Queen we wonder? The same Queen who rewarded those behind Bloody Sunday with knighthoods...

    SF in Derry often claims to speak for Republicans but they only need to look around themselves to see that Republicans have abandoned them.

    And they have a brass-neck given that the people of Derry are still angry that they, SF, stood with Unionists on Derry City Council to block funding for The Bogside Artists.

  6. Marlows
    How many British soldiers are employed as Special Advisors? If you read Dixie's post above,it seems that Paul Kavanagh does not even enjoy the full support of all Derry republicans!
    Anonymous 11 36
    Presumably you are referring to those murdered by Direct Action Against Drugs(a pseudonym for the Provos).Would it not have been better to have drug dealers dealt with in the Courts?Or are all I R A killings legitimate ?