South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

No hierarchy of victims (September 2009)

This week saw the Assembly debate a DUP motion calling for compensation from the Libyan Government for victims of the IRA. This motion comes in the wake of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stating that he would support calls for compensation from Libya.

Sinn Féin has no issue with the notion of compensation for victims. However, all victims of the conflict here deserve the same respect and consideration; we have repeatedly made it clear that there can be no hierarchy of victims. For us, then, any call for compensation for victims must include all victims of the conflict.

That is why we submitted an amendment to the DUP motion seeking equality for all of the victims of the conflict. The Speakers office refused to select our amendment.

While we acknowledge the hurt and pain of those victims of the IRA, we must also see the necessary respect and recognition from the DUP and British government for all of the victims of the conflict in equal measure.

What the DUP motion failed to recognise is that many victims of the conflict here were killed directly by British agents, while others were killed by their surrogates. British state forces have also killed or injured many citizens. British intelligence agencies have armed unionist paramilitaries, including Ulster Resistance, which was established by the DUP, a point which many in the DUP seem happy to ignore.

The British have also collaborated with unionist paramilitaries to bring illegal shipments of arms into Ireland.

The most infamous of these involved the apartheid regime in South Africa. This act had particular ramification in South Belfast.

In February 1992 five people were killed in the Sean Grahams bookmakers on the Lower Ormeau Road by UDA members brandishing and AK-47 and a Browning 9mm handgun. In April 1994 Theresa Clinton was gunned down in her Lower Ormeau home by members of the UDA using an AK-47. Catholic taxi driver John O'Hara was killed in South Belfast by unionist gunmen, again using a Browning 9mm handgun, as was Aidan Wallace in the Devenish Bar. These are only a small number of the killings which took place in the area. I mention the weapons used because they have particular significance.

In late 1987 200 modern automatic rifles; 90 Browning semi-automatic pistols; 500 fragmentation grenades; 12 rocket launchers, and 30,000 rounds of ammunition were imported into the North of Ireland from apartheid South Africa. The weapons used in the attacks I have mentioned above have been linked to the South African shipment.

Central to the importation of these weapons were a number of British intelligence agents, working both in apartheid South Africa and within unionist paramilitary groups here, including the UDA, UVF, and Ulster Resistance. Most notable of these agents was Brian Nelson who was described by one member of the British hierarchy as 'a very courageous man', 'a hero'.

What this 'hero' had done for the British government was to have an immediate impact on the number of killings here. Within six years of the arrival of these weapons loyalists had increased their capacity to kill by 300%. In the six years prior to the weapons shipment, loyalists killed 71 people. In the subsequent six years loyalists killed 229 people. Many of these killings took place in South Belfast.

As a Republican I am not surprised by the hypocritical stance of successive British governments, nor the DUP, on the victims issue.

While unsurprised, I am, however, disappointed. The fact is the British government is not, and cannot be, an objective or neutral referee. The British government was a one of the combatant forces in the conflict. Indeed, the hands of some in the DUP are not at all clean either.

I would reiterate again, there can be no hierarchy of victims and while we acknowledge the hurt and pain of those victims of the IRA, we must also see the necessary respect and recognition from the DUP for all of the victims of the conflict in equal measure.