When Shirley McMichael was appointed to the Northern Ireland Victims Forum earlier this year we were almost the lone voice in questioning that appointment. We had previously also questioned the appointment of PROVO terrorists and/or members of their families.
After reading the interview given by Mrs McMichael to the News Letter last week which focused on the 30th Anniversary since her husband John was murdered we feel vindicated in the stance we took.
Firstly it is important on a human level that we recognise that the McMichael family will grieve the loss of the late John McMichael and we have no doubt that this will have come into sharpe focus as a substantive anniversary is reached.
However we cannot allow the contents of that interview to go unchecked. The theme which ran through Mrs McMichael’s contribution was that of, promoting her late husband’s ‘political’ efforts post his involvement in terrorism as a UDA ‘Brigadier’ whilst skirting over the violent aspects of that organisation and her husband’s close quarters role.
When asked about the many innocent Roman Catholics the UDA murdered, she stated: “It would have been wonderful if there had been a better way. I was a supporter of the civil rights movement but when the IRA violence began it coloured everyone’s judgment. “There could have been a better way. I have talked to the victims of loyalist paramilitaries. My heart goes out to them.”
There was a better way and that was the way which the overwhelming majority of Northern Ireland’s population took, the path of democracy, non-violence and respect for the sanctity of human life.
Mrs McMichael went on to say that she feels “shunned by big house unionists” and “much more at home with republicans,” this statement needs interrogation.
Our organisation is not representative of ‘big house unionism’ but rather is comprised of 11,500 individuals who come from unionist, nationalist and non-aligned backgrounds, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Dissenter and across the class divide.
The commonality these individuals share is an abhorrence and opposition to terrorism and criminal violence, such actions cannot and should not be explained or excused as an inevitable consequence of perceived or indeed real grievances experienced within the Society by any grouping of people.
Many UDA, UVF, IRA and INLA terrorists and/or their families do feel able to be “comfortable with one another” now and why? Because they have convinced themselves that they were fighting a ‘just War,’ that was of neither of their makings. To some degree their warped narratives are dependent on the other’s.
Let’s be clear, in his latter years John McMichael appears to have embarked on a different journey post the violent past from which he came. Is that to be acknowledged? Yes, but more so must those whom the organisation he was a ‘Brigadier’ (terrorist godfather to most of the rest of us) harmed – the very many innocents often murdered because of raw and ugly sectarianism.
Mrs McMichael needs to step beyond solely defending her husband’s legacy to genuinely encouraging those from loyalist terrorist backgrounds to account for their crimes, to express remorse, to repent and to then meaningfully restitute for what they have taken out of this Society.
And this is the commonality shared with republicanism, for they must travel that same journey.
The continued failure to do so means that short of being part of the solution, such mindsets remain an intrinsic part of the problem.