Thursday, 10 December 2009
Say the Word
Was Gerry Adams in the IRA? He says he wasn’t but most people believe he was. As it’s now some fifteen years since the IRA were active, it seems an odd point to get excited about either way. But Liam Clarke sounds excited. He says for Gerry Adams to appear in a Channel 4 programme about Christ’s forgiveness would be unacceptable while he continues to deny he was in the IRA.”That would be a lesson in hypocrisy, not repentance and healing” Clarke says. Appearing on the same Channel 4 programme is Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the Shankill fish-shop bombing. He recently met with Gerry Adams and while he appreciated Mr Adams’s empathy and concern for the pain he had suffered, he told the Sinn Fein leader that this "doesn't justify at all" 3,500 murders, 40,000 people injured and the many young people who were incarcerated for involvement in violence.
It’s the use of the word “murders” that shows us what is going on here and makes us aware of the bigger, unspoken questions behind the demands for Gerry Adams to say he was in the IRA and apologise for the IRA’s violence. No one would say that the RAF flew missions over Germany during the Second World War and ‘murdered’ Germans, just as no one says that hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were ‘murdered’ in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, or that Maggie Thatcher ‘murdered’ over three hundred Argentine sailors on the Belgrano. That’s because those killings, ghastly though they were, happened in a time of war, and violent acts in a war are seen as qualitatively different from violent acts carried out by a private citizen for his or her own ends.
If Gerry Adams could be persuaded to say he was in the IRA and – more importantly – to apologise for IRA violence over thirty years, that would rewrite the Troubles as unionists have always wanted to: several decades of mayhem perpetrated by republican murderers and psychopaths on an innocent civilian population.
There are two grim truths about the Shankill bombing, neither of which do anything to assuage Alan McBride’s pain and loss. The first is that it fits into a pattern of violent acts that occurred over three decades, when the IRA, in the name of Irish unity and self-determination, fought a low-intensity war with the British state. The second is that the Shankill bomb went off as the result of a blunder. The target was an upstairs meeting of UDA leaders which never happened, and the explosion was triggered prematurely. In short, the IRA probably hadn’t intended that Alan McBride’s wife and brother-in-law or any other innocent people should be killed.
It’s hard for someone like Alan McBride, who’s suffered so much, to see and accept these facts. It should be a matter of professional pride for journalists like Liam Clarke to include them in their analysis of what happened and is happening.