I used to cringe when someone asked me about my Dad. I’m not saying that losing someone in the troubles is embarrassing, but a part of me hated telling those not in the know what became of him. Why? Recently I found my answer. It’s a simple answer really and it boils down to the fact that people don’t want to know OR as I will discuss later they are sick and tired of victims. We are so politicised that even the death of an innocent creates an elephant in the room, and an awkward elephant at that. For me the elephant only left the room when those asking knew what side killed my Dad, when he died or if he in the forces.
I hated the questions and the insinuations, any answer I gave apparently revealed my political views, it made me for or against (for the record I am against, I am against all murder). I had done nothing but answer the questions asked – but I almost always offended someone. As such I shied away from any conversation on my Dad. Northern Ireland in its own way was forcing me to forget.
Turn on the news, open a newspaper or indeed your twitter feed and I am sure that somewhere you will see a discussion, or as is more common these days, an argument on victims. This is such a regular occurrence that I have heard people say ‘not another victim story’, or ‘it’s the victims again’. I think it’s fair to make the point that Northern Ireland suffers from victim fatigue and that is so very wrong. Under no circumstances am I saying that the majority of Northern Irish folk are insensitive or callous – but I do maintain that they have been sensitised by the bombardment of victim’s issues and the continuing victim’s debate. In my opinion we are being overloaded with the wrong type of victim related news. Now when we see victims we see the political divide, we see one side or another, we see a continuation of the political whataboutary. It is no wonder fatigue sets in.
What we don’t see is that it’s not the victims who have caused this fatigue. Yes we hear a lot of talk about victims, but is it the right talk? We hear about them constantly but how often do we actually hear from them? It seems that innocent victims are being associated with our government’s inability to come to a consensus. I fear that our government’s intransigence and dithering is turning the country against its victims, it’s turning our victims into villains. It’s time that the government gave us back our victims, let their loved ones remember them as individuals not as a DUP / SF pantomime.
Our politicians may sometimes lack dignity in their past and present deeds but that is no reason to take away the dignity of the dead and bereaved.
Two incidents in the last year have had a profound impact on me, they cemented my views on victims. The first was a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp. What struck me there was that I couldn’t feel anything, the sheer enormity of the atrocities that history tells us about just wouldn’t sink in. When I explained to the guide that I was watching but not quite absorbing the human loss, she told me something that I feel I should share. She pointed to a wall lined with pictures of previous inmates and told me to concentrate on the journey of just one person. I did. Suddenly the horrors in the camp begin vivid and alive and I felt not just for the person I was following but for all those who had died there.
I think the same could be done here. If people would just take a moment someday and open the CAIN index, read Lost Lives, find an innocent victim and try to imagine their final journey, I promise they would see Northern Ireland with new eyes. They would begin to grasp that the victims are just that ‘victims’, they are not political play things. To me the fact that they have become so is one of the outstanding horrors of the troubles.
The second incident happened when I was invited to speak at a victims group in Fermanagh. When I finished my talk I caught sight of my mother talking, I mean really talking to another lady. This rarely happens as she has little in common with so many. This lady was quiet and unassuming, someone that people would pass on the street daily and never take the time to find out about. This lady had lost two people close to her in the troubles, she had no one left yet struggled on quietly every day. No one knew. How many more like her are out there? How many more continue on with their daily lives because they have to, thinking no one is interested? It is people like that lady who will tell you what the troubles were really all about.
Please when you hear ‘victims’ again or another victims story on the news; before you get bored, before you inadvertently think ‘not again’ why not stop, look and listen to a real victim. They are not hard to find. Look at the husband, the wife, the son, the daughter, the brother or sister. Look at the individual, look at how they died, look at those they left behind and ask yourself is this just about politics? The recent BBC ‘Ceasefire’ program is an example of this. Regardless of what side of the fence you belong to, listen to the heart-breaking stories highlighted on it. It would take a very cold person not to be moved. These are the stories we need to hear, these are our victims. Now take a moment to compare the amount we hear from our government and our victim’s services, (as they decide what is best for this collection of individuals) to what we hear from these individuals. The reality of this is shocking.
I hope that one day we realise that the victims of this place were people, people just like you and I getting on with their lives. If we de politicise our innocent and remember them as people, perhaps we would have more interest and less fatigue. Maybe I am expecting too much, maybe I’m dreaming here but wouldn’t it be great if the politicians would understand that whilst the squabble continues on the hill, they are not allowing our victims and survivors to have the recognition or the peace of mind they deserve?
This is a ‘post conflict’ society and by now we should have a lasting memorial for our victims. The fact that we don’t speaks volumes. It is time to remember them not via more fighting and bickering but via respect. They deserve remembrance and at the very least kindness. Next time you wonder about victims, be it the scary man in the street that you pass every day, the bitter old lady who lives alone in the dark house or the strange woman who seems lonely, take the time to stop, look and listen . You will see that victims cannot be lumped together, each one is unique and each story is different, you will see an alternative victim’s story in NI, one that is far away from the arguments and headlines.
When you see this alternative you may find that you are no longer fatigued.