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Belfast Telegraph logo
2 April 2018

Brave little Co Fermanagh group punching above its weight in the fight for victims' rights

All decent people should stand with organisations like SEFF as they battle for justice, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Kenny Donaldson of SEFF with Florence Graham and Serena Hamilton, who lost oved ones to terrorism in Co Fermanagh
Kenny Donaldson of SEFF with Florence Graham and Serena Hamilton, who lost oved ones to terrorism in Co Fermanagh

My default position is to say yes to invitations to give talks, for even if I'm likely to be out of sympathy with the audience, almost always I can learn from them. Talking and listening to victims of terrorism is always a privilege, and when they are people who have risen above terrible experiences without succumbing to hatred, an inspiration.

But victims are entitled to seek justice for their loved ones, and all too often it has been unavailable.

I spent many years working closely with courageous men and women from different political and religious backgrounds who successfully took a civil case against the bombers who devastated their lives in Omagh on August 15, 1998, and was proud to tell their story.

Last week I was in Lisnaskea, headquarters of the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) - which was formed on that terrible day - with an audience of more than 100 engaged, articulate and steadfast people. 

I have a particular fondness for Fermanagh, where I have made friends and learned a great deal over more than 20 years.

It was Eric Brown, who would become a founder and the chairman of SEFF, who first took me around the border to show me some of the IRA killing fields.

He would develop the compelling border coach tours that challenge the Sinn Fein rewriters of history. 

The stories horrified me then and they horrify me now. 

In south-east Fermanagh during the Troubles, in little towns, the IRA mercilessly slaughtered neighbours who were police or members of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

Of the 112 murders, 11 were in Lisnaskea. 

The IRA justification was usually that it was attacking an imperialist uniform.

The reality was that it was mostly motivated by vicious sectarianism.

The most hideous example has to be the brutal cruelty towards the Graham family, where three brothers Ronnie, Cecil and James were picked off between 1981 and 1985, while their sister Hilary, knocked down by a car that crashed through a UDR barrier, was so badly injured that she died prematurely. 

As their surviving sibling told me on Wednesday evening, after James's murder republican supporters drove past the Graham home whooping in triumph.

SEFF has grown from a small local group to a national network of over 1,100. 

Its ethos, says its director Kenny Donaldson, "is built upon the solid foundation that no grievance, enmity or political objective justified the use of criminal violence in what became known as The Northern Ireland Troubles".

Like the families of Omagh, those involved with SEFF want justice, but within the law. 

In Mr Donaldson's words: "Let us never forget that peace (real peace) is not the absence of terrorism but the presence of justice." 

Unlike some victims' groups, they are independent, and they welcome innocent victims of all terrorists.

SEFF has members in the Republic, and recently set up a London office with two major objectives: to help victims/survivors of terrorism in Britain to achieve the recognition and support they need, and to lobby in the interests of their members who believe - with good reason - that the legal system is skewed against them.

Recently, SEFF recruited as an advocacy support worker the redoubtable Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead as the IRA sought to murder their father. 

She has a particular concern for the injured, whose needs are all too often ignored, but she is scathing, too, about unfairness of the system of awarding legal aid.

She said: "Those who are alleged to have committed serious criminal offences appear to be awarded legal aid at will without having to jump through too many hoops, while innocent victims have to complete a full assault course and even then may be told to complete a further few laps with no guarantee of the coveted prize."

The award of legal aid on the fifth attempt for the Hyde Park victims was a reminder that persistence pays off.

Terrorism isn't going away. All decent people should be wishing SEFF and its allies well. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards is the author of Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing And The Families' Pursuit Of Justice


Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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