The many who don’t want to listen should at least look; look at the pictures of the Victims Forum meeting in Donegal earlier this week – pictures included in a news report I did for UTV.
Spread over two days, their conversations at that meeting were not just about the past, but also about the future and the type of services and help victims and survivors will need.
These are important discussions among a whole range of different people hurt by the many different sides during a decades-long conflict.
The Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone was at that meeting, held in a week which marks her sixth month in the job.
Last year she stepped into our developing peace and into a place where the wounds of the many ‘wars’ still need tended.
“For so many people that I’ve met and spoken to, the idea of drawing a line under the past is so offensive and so insulting,” she told me in an interview for that UTV report, and she also dismissed the trite notion that what happened here can somehow be “boxed away”.
When we look at those pictures of the Victims Forum meeting we should not take what we see for granted.
Eibhlin Glenholmes – a republican once described in the headline “most wanted” – is seen chatting in a group that includes Jennifer McNern, who lost both her legs in the Abercorn restaurant bomb in 1972.
This talking is not about cosy conversations.
How could it be after all that happened here?
In those ‘war’ years, the bombs and the bullets were never far away, sometimes in the next street or town or village – just around the corner.
Everybody knows someone.
So, this week Kathryn Stone talked about the people “for whom the past is their present”.
“It’s what they deal with every day,” she said.
“It’s what they live with every day. It’s not past. It’s now.”
The WAVE Trauma Group was also present at that Victims Forum meeting in Donegal and recently held its own conference at Queen’s University in Belfast
I’d popped my head in to listen for a while, to scribble a few notes, and sat up when one man spoke.
His name is Alex Bunting who was injured by an IRA booby-trap bomb back in 1991.
As he spoke, he said politicians viewed victims as “a political embarrassment”.
“We have to drive this process forward,” he said.
“We are caught in the middle.
“No one wants to listen – especially within politics,” he said.
There was no beating around the bush.
He said what he believes – that a process needed to recognise both what happened and what now needs to happen lacks the necessary political will.
One of the experts speaking at the conference described a situation in which the onus is “on the victim of the trauma to go looking for help”.
“We are always constructing this the wrong way round,” he said.
So the approach needs to be different, and Kathryn Stone has now floated a few ideas, including what she calls a “civilian covenant” and a pension for all victims.
She understands this will take this debate into another difficult conversation.
Remember the Eames/Bradley proposal for a £12,000 recognition payment for all victims, and remember the launch of the report in a charged atmosphere of confrontation.
That document containing many recommendations including a Legacy Commission with information-recovery and investigation units has since been shelved – like many of the victims of this place it has been ignored and forgotten; forgotten by those who hope the past can be boxed away.
It won’t be, of course, and the Victims Commissioner believes something – another initiative – is needed; some process to address the broad issues of truth, justice and acknowledgement and in a joined-up rather than scattered approach.
This will require a change in focus and emphasis, and in the waiting, what happens?
What happens is the headlines of conflict are remembered, and in that narrow remembering much is forgotten.
Most recently it has been Gibraltar, Milltown Cemetery, the Corporals killings and Warrington, and later this year it will be the 20th anniversaries of the Shankill bomb and the Greytsteel shootings.
“I think it’s right that we remember those things,” Kathryn Stone told me.
“But in remembering those big headline events we need to think about other people and those quiet little voices in the background,” she continued.
Recently she asked one woman what she would want and expect of the Victims Commissioner and the reply was that “the name of my little one is never forgotten”.
This is an example of the past being the present, a poignant illustration of why we should look and listen and why the victims and survivors of many ‘bloody days’ should be both seen and heard.