Professor John Brewer, Queen’s University Belfast &
Professor Bernie Hayes, University of Aberdeen
2nd June 2013
In a second piece of research reported by us, using data from the 2010 Northern Ireland Election Survey, we have further evidence that victims can be moral beacons and are often more progressive and tolerant than we are led to believe. The research is reported in the current issue of the journal Political Studies (volume 61, issue 2, 2013: 442-61), which is the journal of the United Kingdom Political Studies Association.
This shows that individual victims – those who had directly and indirectly experienced violent incidences and perceived themselves as victims – were significantly more supportive of the power sharing arrangements established under the Good Friday Agreement than non-victims. This relationship holds true regardless of whether Protestants or Catholic victims are considered. Again this confirms the suggestion that it is possible in Northern Ireland to find a balance between honouring victims and inheriting the future.
This does not mean we ignore the past, or tell victims to ‘move on’, a phrase so often used. Quite the reverse. Honouring the victims allows us to tap into their magnanimity. The progressive and tolerant views victims articulate compared to non-victims suggests that as a result of the victimisation experience many victims develop an empathy, and sense of charity and mercy that are wonderful pointers to the future.
In the case of this research, compared to non-victims, victims expressed a greater endorsement of the systems of government established under the Good Friday Agreement, greater support for its consociational principles of inclusion in power sharing and decision making, and held more positive views of current political leaders. In other words, victims were a more positive and inclusive force for political accommodation compared to non-victims.
Of course, behind every statistic on victims lies a human story of tragedy that statistics cannot capture, but the data speaks to the way in which victims’ suffering leads them to want to make the peace work more than non-victims. We find this both strange and startling. It should be the basis for placing victims at the heart of the debate about the sort of future they and the rest of Northern Irish society deserve.
Northern Ireland has to become reconciled to its past; victims show us that they do not want to the locked there.