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.