A group representing terrorist victims in the Co Tyrone town at the centre of this summer’s IRA parade has hit out at Victims’ Commissioner Kathryn Stone, claiming she is failing to represent their interests.
The Castlederg victims group said the victims’ advocate’s difficulty in defining terrorism was “absurd” – and also expressed their disappointment at Ms Stone’s decision not to wear a poppy during official engagements around Remembrance Day last year.
Ms Stone caused controversy earlier this week when, in an interview with the News Letter, she refused to call the IRA or UVF terrorists.
A spokesman for Derg Valley Victims’ Voice (DVVV)told the News Letter that it had written to Ms Stone about her decision not to wear a poppy last year. During protracted correspondence, Ms Stone said that the commission was reviewing its ‘symbols and emblems’ policy in light of the complaint.
The spokesman said: “The poppy is of enormous symbolic importance to DVVV members, many of whom had loved ones murdered whilst serving in the armed forces during the Troubles. These are people whose interests the Victims’ Commissioner should be advocating and representing – not insulting by pursuing every possible avenue that will lead her away from running the risk of offending those who are offended by anything that symbolises the individual and national sacrifices made in the name of freedom and democracy.”
He added that the group was unhappy that Ms Stone had not contacted it during the summer “parade crisis” which he said re-traumatised many victims of IRA violence in Castlederg
“In addition, we have been trying to secure a meeting with a commission representative since February and the earliest we can now have one is the end of November.
“The Victims’ Commissioner describes herself as ‘a voice for victims’. She is not a voice for our members. Regrettably members currently have no confidence in Ms Stone’s commitment to their interests.”
Despite the criticism of the commissioner’s comments, DUP leader Peter Robinson said that there was widespread support for her among victims’ groups.
Speaking to the BBC last night, he said that Ms Stone could have said all paramilitaries were terrorists, but added: “I can’t define her role for her, and I think we better be very clear about this, there is overwhelming support for Kathryn with the victims’ organisations and those who are victims. I don’t believe we have ever had a commissioner who has had as much support in that sector as Kathryn is getting.”
Mr Robinson also said he understood what he called her dilemma: “I am very clear in my mind that those who are involved in terrorism should be called terrorists. I recognise the dilemma for her, working under the legislation that she is, it does restrict her somewhat. That legislation is not Northern Ireland legislation, in spite of some of the attempts that are being made by some of our political opponents to suggest that we are in some way tied up with the definition of a victim.
“That is UK-wide legislation. It was made at Westminster...and we are the ones that have been attempting to change it, until it changes Kathryn Stone has to deal with the existing definition.
“She is the spokesperson for victims and if you define victims in a certain way that places her in a dilemma.”
Ms Stone said: “As commissioner it is my role to reflect the voices of all victims and survivors. It is my duty to do so to fulfil the obligations laid down in statute.”
TUV leader Jim Allister has tabled a Stormont motion calling on Ms Stone to consider her position and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, a former victims commissioner, said he was shocked at her comments.
What Kathryn Stone said: “When asked in the interview whether she believed that the IRA were terrorists Kathryn Stone said: “Well, and again the difficulty for me is that I know there are some people who believe absolutely that they were.
“There are others who believe absolutely that they weren’t.”
Asked if she did not have a view on the issue, Ms Stone said: “My job is to represent the views of victims and survivors.
“Some victims absolutely believe that they were; others believe that they weren’t.”
When again asked whether she believed the UVF were terrorists, Ms Stone just said: “Some people would say they were; others would say they weren’t.”