“Murder is murder is murder!” the woman in the audience told Laurence McKeown and everyone in last night’s Nolan Show audience. “I don’t agree with you” McKeown said. Stephen Nolan was keen to have Laurence direct his comments to the woman who was sitting beside him. Her father, who’d been a member of the UDR, was shot dead by the IRA. McKeown told Nolan he wasn’t in the game of creating sound-bites.
It was an interesting moment because it brought into focus two ways of approaching our past. Nolan thrives on having adversaries make their acusations directly to those they deem responsible for their pain; McKeown and most republicans prefer to look at the conflict in wider terms, including the state out of which the conflict grew. So while an argument between the woman who lost her father and McKeown would almost certainly have made for riveting television, it wouldn’t have told us much beyond the fact that the woman was filled with pain and resentment at her father’s death. When it comes to making rounded judgements about the past, victims who are suffering rarely (and understandably) are the best choice.
The word “murder” was used by the woman whose father was killed by the IRA; Jude Whyte ( or ‘White’ as the programme chose to call him) lost his mother in a UVF attack and he said he saw his mother as having been murdered also. Someone else - maybe Sinn Féin’s Raymond McCartney - said that the great majority of those incarcerated in Long Kesh would never have been there had our society been a normal one. In other words, it seemed that some of those involved in the show saw the deaths as murder, full stop; others saw them as a tragic part of a conflict in which everyone suffered.
The last time I mentioned the word ‘murder’ in relation to the Troubles it evoked a fire-storm of vilification. I was saying it was right that Mary Travers had been killed, I was saying it was right that the Shankill bomb had killed so many people. The fact that I said nothing of the sort was brushed aside. I expect there’ll be a similar reaction to the McKeown-McCartney view on the Troubles. Particular killings will be highlighted and demands will be made to call them murder. I won’t say the people who make such demands are wilfully blind, but I will say that they are refusing to distinguish between deliberate killings for personal motives and deliberate or even accidental killings as part of a political conflict.
The trouble with declaring all killings to be murder, regardless of cause or political end, is that logic demands you denounce any decoration for war activities and embrace pacifism as a life-guiding philosophy. And not too many are prepared to go down that road.