And so begins another part of my journey as a victim/survivor of our most recent conflict. I have been selected to become a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum as part of a group of ten new members who will join the existing forum of thirteen people who, in turn, will stand down next year. This outgoing group of thirteen will be replaced by an additional group of new members in April 2017.
The Forum is made up of individual victims and survivors from across the region: those who have been bereaved; injured; as well as those who care for the injured. The main function of the Forum is to provide victims and survivors with an opportunity to put forward their views, which should feed into policy, on the plethora of issues facing victims in particular, and society in general, as we ‘deal’ with the ongoing legacy of the Troubles.
This Forum could not and should not purport to speak for ALL victims but, as a group, which is broadly representative of the population of those who were victimised, we do have an important part to play in tackling the issues; which, so far, have held up the recovery process. Collectively, we should try to come to some sort of agreement on what can be done to repair our society; and to make sure it never happens again.
This concept of ‘Never Again’ is a recurring theme among those who have been most affected by conflict; both here and around the world. For me it comes from a sense that I have witnessed the dark side of humanity, at first hand, and I would not wish this upon anyone else: even upon those who perpetrated it. Breaking the cycle of violence, recrimination and revenge starts with people like me. When we call for no more recrimination, for a better way, our voices seem to be heard. We become 'moral beacons' who can shine a light on the issues and show a way forward. We should grasp this mantle with both hands and take the rest of our fractured society forward with us. We must never go back.
Although I sit on my wheelchair in 2016, with all the baggage of someone who was born in 1972 and lived through the Troubles, who was injured in a sectarian gun attack in 1994, and has since embarked on a role in peacebuilding through the resolution of conflict issues, I enter this Forum with an open and honest heart. I want to listen to those have a different experience of the conflict. I want to understand their pain and their sense of loss. As well as this, I want them to hear me too. I want us all to be able to listen to each other. To really listen.
I have my own personal views about how legacy issues could be resolved in a way that would benefit victims and survivors but this may not suit everyone. I have met many other victims over the years, who would profoundly disagree with my views, but I have found that when I appeal to them on a purely human level, we can come to a common respectful understanding of the issues we face.
One such issue that I know for sure will come up for discussion is the definition of a victim. It is a debate that may never be resolved. Some argue that people who were involved with paramilitarism or their families can never be classed as victims in the same breath as those who were not. This creates a hierarchy of victimhood where some victims are considered more superior than others. For me, while I understand their concerns, I find this competition is wholly divisive.
This is not the Olympics, or for us cripples, the Paralympics, where we have a range of gold, silver and bronze medal winning victims. We don't need a hierarchy. We should maybe look at the issue through a more linear perspective - where we are all seen as victims and survivors in our own right but where we experience our victimhood at different ends of a spectrum. There are those of us who may be moving towards the middle of this spectrum and those who wish to stay at the opposite ends. This is fine. We don't have to be the same in terms of how we feel as victims. Victimhood is tasted differently by different people at different times of our lives. Victimhood is not fixed. It is not black and white: it’s a complex grey area.
I look forward to the coming debates. I hope that the people who put themselves forward for the Forum come to table with a similar resolve to do their best for our society. This is not just about looking after the needs and desires of victims and survivors or, for that matter, certain sections of this group. This is about attempting to tackle what has been a toxic issue which has dogged our political and social processes. I hope we can add to the work that has already been done by the outgoing Forum in a calm, positive and respectful way. I hope that the work we do in the future will help to heal our fractured society. I hope.