The 2nd April 2011 was a beautiful Spring day, much like the 8th April 1984 when my beautiful sister Mary and gorgeous parents were walking home from Mass at St Brigid's Church. They were approximately a couple of hundred yards away from our home when two IRA gunmen approached, one shooting Mary fatally once in the back and then walking over to my mum, who was on the ground cradling her dying daughter and held the gun to her head, the bullets jammed twice, a miracle, the other shot my Dad at point blank range 6 times, seriously injuring him but miraculously he survived. Life was never the same again. I was 14 at the time.
On the 2nd of April 2011, Mum and I were driving home from visiting Mary's grave, it would be her anniversary in a few days and I was up for the weekend, which also happened to be Mothering Sunday weekend. The radio was switched on and the sun was shinning, when the news came on , telling of the murder of a young PSNI officer, Ronan Kerr. We felt so shocked and saddened, I couldn't help but think what a waste and draw similarities with Mary; she was 23 and in her first teaching job and he was only 25 and not long in the police. We got back to Mum's house and switched on the news, where Martin McGuinness was on rightly condemning the murder of a young man just going to work. I wondered why he couldn't say the same for my family and 1000's of others, but I was glad he had changed. At the time of Mary's murder it was described in the Belfast Telegraph by Sinn Fein spin "Miss Travers death was regrettable but understandable as her father was a member of the British Judiciary." Dad was a Resident Magistrate, he didn't carry a gun as he couldn't take a life and he refused police protection as he said he couldn't live with himself if a policeman was killed because of him. My Dad was a good, honest man, who treated everyone as a unique individual. Nobody had the right to murder him.
On the way back to my home in Wicklow on Monday 4th April, I tuned into Joe Duffy's Live Line programme; they were discussing Ronan Kerr's murder. I don't know what made me do it but I phoned in and told my story and how hurt we felt that the attack on our family is still justified. I said it was to be welcomed that SF were condemning Ronan's murder. I had never spoken publicly before about our story and after I hung up I thought I never would again. Then on Wednesday 18th of May 2011 after doing the school run and just about to have 1st coffee of the day the phone rang, it was a BBC Researcher for Radio Ulster Talk Back programme. She asked me if I'd seen the front of the Irish News, I hadn't so she told me that Mary McArdle had been appointed Special Adviser to the SF Culture Minister. Hearing Mary McArdle's name after all these years was like being punched in the stomach, she was the only person convicted for Mary's murder, she carried the guns and wigs, I could barely breath, I asked the researcher to phone me back, I dropped the phone and panicked, I was back running out of our home in Windsor Avenue and seeing my sister lying awkwardly in the dirt, very still yet gurgling, my dad lying conscious, trying to take off his watch and my mum kneeling beside him "somebody help my poor husband, please somebody help my poor husband ". The box containing my grief and loss that had been kept for 27 years in the back of my head had been forced open . I can't describe adequately here just how I felt, I thought I'd "moved on" but all the healing I thought I had experienced was undone in one fell swoop.
The following days were manic, I spoke to the media, opening my heart in the hope that the new Sinn Fein would listen, the same Sinn Fein that had condemned Ronan Kerr's murder, hoping that Mary McArdle would listen, that they would realise and understand the renewed trauma they had caused and how devastating it was. I didn't think and don't think they went out on purpose to hurt us. It wasn't to be. There was no statement, no, " Mary is standing down as Special Adviser, not because we think she shouldn't have the job but because we didn't realise the very real hurt that would be felt by the Travers family" that would have been it if there had, instead it dragged out, Mary's murder was described as "regrettable " The DFM described the incident as obviously having a "neuralgic effect" on me. Meanwhile the flashbacks continued and the stress levels raised.
I didn't know what to do.
I spoke with SDLP MLAs including Alban Maginness who was very kind and we had many long conversations. But ultimately there was nothing they could do to help except offer support and understanding. I decided to phone Peter Robinson's constituency office to get his email so I could write to him, I thought because he was First Minister he might be able to do something, I was surprised when his secretary offered an appointment to meet him, I was happy to accept, although a little worried as I'd criticised him on Joe Duffy's programme in the April for all the 3rd Force stuff and wearing his "wee beret" but I didn't think he would be listening to RTE1. That first meeting was nerve racking, it was in his constituency office and as I waited I looked at the walls which had lots of Unionist memorabilia, it was very alien to me, a Catholic. His Special Adviser came out to bring me in, I asked him if he had "ever murdered anyone", it was out of my mouth before I thought, he laughed and said no. Peter Robinson was very kind and helpful, he spoke about what they could do to help prevent this from happening to another family but whatever they did, it wouldn't be retrospective. I left feeling pleased another family wouldn't have to go through this but my heart was sinking, this was so wrong, so disrespectful to the memory of my gorgeous sister who didn't ever have the chance to marry, have children, or have her career... I returned home disappointed but determined not to give up.
I saw on the news an MLA who was supportive of our family, Jim Allister. As I had lived in Wicklow for 15 years and England 5 years previously, I didn't know much about Jim or the TUV, but I wrote to thank him for his support just as I wrote to everyone who had been supportive. He replied, told me as a young barrister he had appeared in front of Dad and not to worry he thought there may be a way to have legislation applied retrospectively. He gave me hope! We had quite a lot of email contact then we met for the first time in Stormont on the day it was announced that the SPAD Bill was launched. People were surprised to see me with Jim Allister, they talked about him being a " bigot", sectarian, hating Catholics. This wasn't the man that I had met. He told me he condemned all terrorists both loyalist and republican , there was no doubt how much he disliked SF but then again considering what had happened to my family and now this, I was hardly in love with them. Many of those who were surprised told me I was right to do all that I had to do.
I didn't and don't agree with all the TUV's policies but I am grateful to them for the support they have given me. I know many wont like to hear it but its true, there is no point in me saying things just to curry favour. I can only remain true to myself and the memory of my sister. Jim Allister was and is very kind to me but just because you are friends or associates with someone does not mean that you are responsible for them or agree with everything they do and say. I am positive there are things which I say or do that Jim Allister doesn't agree with.
I carried on with the Spad Bill, even though I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2012, because of the love for my sister. All the name calling to me by those who are unhappy that I spoke up and the Spad Bill succeeding in being passed will never stop my loyalty or love for my family or many of my new friends which include republican and loyalist terrorist victims.
All murder was wrong and that includes any murder of innocents carried out by the state or those who used their job to discredit their colleagues and pass information or guns onto Loyalist Terrorists.
Looking back now I realise what an immense journey I have come on in the past 3 years. I have spoken to people who I would never in a million years thought I would ever have spoken to. I have listened to them and they have listened to me. We have agreed to disagree on some issues but agreed on others. We have shown compassion towards each other and started the building blocks of understanding.
All of this however will be worthless if the justification of past murders continues; if the lack of tolerance, understanding and compassion continues. I don't understand why some victims attack other victims, mostly on social media, we are all the same! We all grieved, our religion shouldn't matter, neither should it matter which terrorist organisation made us victims. Some of us want truth and justice, others just truth - this is fine, neither opinion is wrong. Why can we not support each other instead of abuse each other. I am not perfect, I've made mistakes, but hey I'm human.
In 2014 my wish would be more compassion, respect and tolerance could be shown. That there could be an acknowledgement that terrorism happened here and it was wrong, no justification, whether Loyalist or Republican. ALL WRONG.
Ah yes and one more thing, no more abuse on twitter after writing this, but maybe that's pushing it!
FOLLOW ANN ON TWITTER