This article is borne out of frustration and because I am fed up to the back teeth listening to various politicians saying they are sure they ‘speak for all victims’. No-one speaks for all victims. This victim speaks for myself.
Firstly, I come from a Nationalist and Republican background of which I am very proud. I am a married father and grandfather and I am one of 9 siblings. I have worked as a mental health professional for many years and additionally have a keen interest in conflict resolution and the creation of a society based on equality. It was undoubtedly my personal life experiences which created my direction and interests.
My aunt lost her life when she got caught in crossfire between the IRA and the British Army. She was 39 years old. My cousin was shot dead by unknown persons as he walked through the grounds of the RVH. He was 15 years old. My father, John Crawford had his life taken by the UVF. He was a business owner, 52 years old and I was 17 at the time. All 3 lost their lives during the 1970’s. According to most formulae that makes me a victim. My opinion is that my father is the victim.
I was one of the survivors. I also survived taking on my father’s role (at 17/18 years old) in running the family business until it too was burnt to the ground 3 years later. I also survived searching for my father’s body for several hours while the RUC and British refused to help even though Andersonstown British Army/RUC Base and the British Army Billet at Falls Bus depot overlooked and dominated the scene. His body was eventually found by friends when I had gone the half mile home to support my mother. I say ‘was’ a survivor because I have for a long time viewed myself as the ‘victor’. I consider myself the victor because despite everything described above I have remained who I am and retained my own identity.
Although supremely comfortable in my own identity I am neither bitter nor sectarian and believe in equality of citizenship. I care not one iota if a person is white, black, green, orange, catholic, protestant or pin-striped. I maintain friendships with decent people from every background.
My narrative on the past (very briefly): Whilst hundreds of years of specific historical events have brought us to this point in our make-up, I personally relate my situation to the creation of the ‘Northern Ireland State’ in 1921 as being most relevant to me. At that time 6 of the 9 Ulster counties were separated from the rest of Ireland by an imposed border. Unionist leaders declared the formation of ‘A Protestant Nation for a Protestant People’. This was clearly a declaration of the establishment of an apartheid state and an apartheid state should be just as unacceptable here as in any other part of the world. Catholics, nationalists and republicans were imprisoned, murdered and burnt from their homes at will. Many of these attacks were directly carried out by security force murder/reprisal squads while others were carried out by their surrogates in the UVF and other militias. This is not a bigoted or extreme/partisan view (in my opinion) but an easily checkable record of historical fact.
The Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist (PUL) community were constantly fed a diet of conspiracy theories to convince them of the existence of a ‘papist’ and republican threat. This intensified in the run-up to 1966 and the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
Eventually the result was the onset of the recent ‘troubles’ when Gusty Spence and his UVF gang murdered a young catholic barman in Belfast and attempted to murder other people within the nationalist community. When this did not produce the required reaction from the imaginary subversives the John Mc Keag faction of the UVF exploded a bomb at Silent Valley Reservoir and blamed it on the IRA. This galvanised the PUL community in their siege mentality and directly led to in the anti-catholic/nationalist pogroms of 1969. I would expect that most interested people are familiar with the carnage that ensued for a generation from 1969 onwards.
Truth recovery and Justice: Modern warfare takes place in the midst of civilian populations. This is especially so in places like Ireland, Palestine or the Basque Country where the disputed territory is an occupied section of the larger country. Soldiers (generally) no longer travel to foreign battlefields as a ground-force to fight from behind fortified lines.
This change in how wars are fought directly accounts for the total reversal in ratios of civilian/military casualties. Civilian casualties during WW1 were approximately 5%, rising to 50% during WW2, 83% in Vietnam and 96/97% in most current and recent wars. These facts, of necessity, completely changed tactics of war, impact on population and subsequently conflict resolution.
My father was one of 11 people whose lives were taken by the UVF between October 1973 and February 1974. During this period the UVF were on a declared ceasefire. It is my logical and rational belief (given the particular circumstances of his death) that collusion between British militarists and their surrogates (UVF) played a crucial role without which the killing could not have taken place logistically.
Three years later, on 28th February 1978, a member of the UVF pleaded guilty to 6 murders and 4 attempted murders plus a myriad of other offences. He was sentenced to 10 life sentences plus 100’s of years for other offences. My father was one of those he was involved in killing. Was this justice? The simple answer is – not in my opinion. This person surrendered his guilt to the RUC after being arrested on an unrelated matter. It is my opinion he received a special deal to ensure his silence, (no minimum stipulation and released after approx. 10 or 11 years), and to protect his co-offenders who were directly trained, paid and directed by the British security forces and their political masters. This person’s name is Raymond Glover and I harbour no ill-will against him. He was not alone, he has completed his sentence, and I hope he is now leading a productive life.
But (at least):
- 2 others carried out forward scouting to confirm my father’s presence.
- 3 others were present at the actual scene
- 2 others provided safe houses to come from and return to
- Others provided transport
- Others financed the operation
- Others provided safe passage without threat of arrest
- Others provided weapons
- Others provided training
- Others sat down in committee to endorse my father as a target
- Others failed to report suspicious activity
- Others failed to investigate
- Others covered up the truth
- Others launched a vicious campaign of house raids, arrests and brutality against my family
- Others launched a campaign of misinformation to justify the killing and (by implication) to blame my father for his own death
This is the truth. These are the facts. At a conservative estimate this list puts maybe 30 people as being directly involved in taking my father’s life. And this chain of people stretches from Belfast, through Vauxhall Cross, to the highest echelons of Westminster.
Given the above I would suggest that the truth is clearly known and therefore, in theory, does not need to be ‘recovered’. But this is only partly true.
Raymond Glover did not know my father or even of his existence. He therefore bore no personal grudge. The fact is Raymond Glover was a willing and active member of the UVF who revelled in executing the orders passed down to him. It is my logical opinion therefore that responsibility for my father’s death is a UVF ‘corporate’ responsibility and that culpability in that respect should include their British overlords. I also think it realistic to expect that ALL those involved directly in killing my father will never be either identified or prosecuted. In fact, I think that NO-ONE else directly involved will ever be prosecuted. This being the reality, as I see it, I detail below several personal suggestions and opinions on how I think issues such as the above might be addressed for many in similar situations.
A truth recovery mechanism should be established whereby ALL combatant groups are facilitated to relate their own ‘corporate’ responsibility to the greatest possible degree.
A major key to success of any process needs to be the removal of threat to all parties – that includes the threat of prison or reprisal of any sort towards the perpetrators.
Raymond Glover, as an ex-prisoner with conflict related convictions (only?), is discriminated against when seeking employment and in other areas. Because the others involved were not convicted they are free to adopt, foster and to (eg) work with vulnerable adults or in security related jobs. This discrimination continues to unfairly punish Raymond Glover many years after his release from prison.
Ex-prisoners/combatants were crucial in delivering the peace. They should be free to be full participants in that peace and under the same conditions as everyone else.
Discrimination against ex-prisoners with conflict related convictions should cease immediately. I further suggest that this should be subject to such convictions being purely conflict related and prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. I also suggest that amnesty and/or deletion of record of conviction could be a way to achieve this provided requirements for the granting of an amnesty are agreed and met in full, both in terms of reference and under international law. I do not consider that I would be sacrificing my right to legal recourse against the guilty because the reality is that I’m as likely to get it as I am to fly to the moon tomorrow.
It is just over 40 years since my father’s life was taken. In that time no evidence has been produced to enable any other person to be prosecuted. This is despite the fact that police know the identities of all those actually involved at the scene. But intelligence is not evidence and the ‘dogs in the street’ do not stand in witness boxes. The factual reality is that this is never now likely to happen. It would seem to me that the protection/immunity of agents in the pay of British Government agencies is a major stumbling block in this area. But, whatever the reasons, the majority of killings have not been resolved and the reality is they won’t be. Victims and combatants alike are dying daily in increasing numbers and their pain or knowledge is going to the grave with them. I am also concerned that incidents where there were multiple deaths, or where the victim was high profile, are increasingly the only deaths mentioned.
The pretence of seeking prosecutions through such facades as the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) should be dropped. All such bodies should be replaced by an independent and international truth recovery body. An essential component of the establishment of such a body would be the necessity to move from individual to corporate responsibility. This would not let unprosecuted people off the hook, rather, it would recognise reality and facilitate forward movement with consolidation of the peace. It should be recognised that, as active participants to the conflict, ex-prisoners and the un-convicted participants know what drove them. And, as such, they are best placed to steer the present generation away from repeating similar actions. I firmly believe that this is a much more difficult route for them than remaining outside. I also think it essential that any such body is mandated to take a multi-track approach, ie: an approach to establish corporate narratives on the reasons for the conflict plus an approach which directly provides answers to individual victims or families, plus as many other tracks as are reasonably necessary.
On the matters of ‘sorry’ and ‘forgiveness’. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if I forgive.
The implication is that if I don’t forgive I am somehow less than Christian.
The fact is I am a nice person but that I absolutely do not forgive. This is very different from bearing a grudge or wanting revenge. Quite the opposite is true. I firmly believe that if someone thinks they have done wrong they need to address this with their god, whoever that god may be, or directly with those they have wronged. To forgive, in my opinion, is to say ‘it’s okay now’. It’s not okay now that my father’s life was taken and never will be.
I firmly believe also that ‘sorry’ must be freely given and sincere. A sorry received as a result of demands means absolutely nothing.
Neither Raymond Glover nor the militias he served have ever directly apologised for killing my father. I suspect they never will. To me this is irrelevant.
On how the victim community is treated I would say this. I see absolutely no difference between the trauma and/or impact suffered by any family who has lost a member or suffered injury regardless of circumstance. There should absolutely be no hierarchy of victims. According to the CAIN archive 623 human beings lost their lives in West Belfast as a result of the conflict. They came from every side of the conflict, and according to me the loss suffered by their loved ones is the same.
On narratives of the past. I have placed this in the plural because I recognise there are many. All are true according to the teller, many contradict each-other but all remain true all the same.
For example: The UVF truth of my father’s killing is likely to be that he was a legitimate target in their terms, they meant to kill him, they carried out a successful operation, and they are not sorry.
My truth on my father’s killing is that he was not a legitimate target for anyone and no-one had the right to take his life. He was a hard working gentleman who lived for his family and who happened to be a catholic, a nationalist and a republican. These are all very legitimate thing to be.
These two narratives are clearly contradictory and will never align. Both, however, remain true according to the viewpoint of the narrator.
It is because of the reality of differing but true narratives that I firmly believe the Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze/Long Kesh site should not only be built, it should be built as a matter of urgency.
I also firmly believe that this is the correct site to build it given it is by far the most widely known single location of probably the most pivotal episode of the conflict – namely the hunger strikes. I also think the governments should fund and facilitate, without condition or censorship, the recording and publishing of every narrative from every person or group who wishes to record one.
Compensation for all victims/survivors/victors should be revisited and addressed. Although money is not a motivation for this group it could be a form of acknowledgement, and although costly would likely be much less costly than many more years of conflict.
The British Government should be compelled to participate in truth recovery processes as the combatant group which they were.
Investigations can cost millions – a tragedy when the truth could be delivered for free in the right circumstances.