Northern Ireland

Victims campaigner who witnessed shootings on Bloody Sunday declines MBE

Abuse victim and campaigner Jon McCourt of Survivors (PA)
Abuse victim and campaigner Jon McCourt of Survivors (PA)

A campaigner for victims of historical abuse who witnessed two teenagers being injured on Bloody Sunday has declined the chance to be made an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours.

Jon McCourt is the chairman and co-founder of Survivors North West, a campaign group that advocated for a formal inquiry into historical abuse in institutions in Northern Ireland.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) went on to reveal sexual, physical and emotional abuse at state, church and charity-run homes from 1922 to 1995.

Mr McCourt said his experience working with victims of state abuse, as well as his personal experience, informed his decision to decline the MBE title.

Church abuse
Abuse victim and campaigner Jon McCourt of Survivors (Liam McBurney/PA)

He stated he was alongside Joseph Mahon and Micheal Quinn, two teenagers who were injured on Bloody Sunday in Derry.

Thirteen civil rights protesters were shot dead by British soldiers and 15 injured in the Bogside area of the city on January 30 1972.

Another man shot by paratroopers that day died four months later. While many consider him the 14th victim of Bloody Sunday, his death was formally attributed to an inoperable brain tumour.

Mr McCourt added: “I remember not too long ago, one of the soldiers actually involved in Bloody Sunday got an MBE.

“I mean, for me, there’s absolutely no equivocation at all. There’s nothing at all that would make me want to accept that.

“Certainly with all of the HIA (historical institutional abuse) stuff, and the child migrants and the propagation of empire and all of that, but Bloody Sunday particularly.”

Other campaigners from the HIA inquiry have accepted MBE titles, and Mr McCourt stressed that his decision was a personal one.

He also stated that the true recognition for him was the establishment of a redress board under the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 that would allow victims to claim compensation.

Since its establishment in March 2020, the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board has received more than 3,700 applications and made award determinations totalling some £68.8 million.

“People can make their own choices, you know, what I mean, my personal history, my political history and my involvement with the HIA inquiry, I mean, quite succinctly, for me the recognition was being in Westminster the day the redress legislation was passed, and for me, that was a recognition that what we’ve done was the right thing and the fact that it was worth doing,” he said.

He added: “Having spoken with the commissioner for victims and survivors last week, the fact that thousands of people have now reaped the benefit of what it was that we fought for.

“That there’s people there who have a voice now, who had a voice, who needed their voice heard, and at least have acknowledgement in some form from the government, that what happened them when they were in institutions was wrong, and it should never have happened.”

Church abuse
Abuse victim and campaigner Jon McCourt (Liam McBurney/PA)

Despite declining the MBE title, Mr McCourt said he was pleased for the recognition of his work and that of other campaigners.

“I am pleased that the work we have been engaged in on behalf of Victims and Survivors of Historical Institutional Abuse has been recognised by the Government,” he said.

“It was a privilege to work with many representatives across the political spectrum to ensure that the long search for justice for some of the most vulnerable children in our society, abused while in the care of the State and religious institutions.”

Mr McCourt stated that his activism for survivors of abuse was not party political.

“The campaign for justice for victims and survivors of Historical Institutional Abuse crossed the religious and political divide in this country,” he said.

“We were clear at the outset that we were not seeking an Inquiry into solely Catholic run institutions. Victims and survivors came from a broad section of state and religious Institutions each with their own traumatic experience to recall.

“We stayed away, I believe successfully, from anything political that would have detracted from our cause.”