As I write this, I’m on stand-by for a possible call from the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh. The topic (which may or may not be debated this morning, depending on how much time other topics take) is Gerry Kelly’s praise of the Tyrone IRA Volunteers in his speech last Sunday, and his subsequent statement on the Nolan Show yesterday (which I missed) that he would do the same things again if the armed conflict here were to be replayed.
I’m slightly surprised that this is being considered for discussion on the Nolan Show. Gerry Kelly himself put the matter in a nutshell when he said “There are two narratives here”.
One narrative, the republican one, is that the IRA were part of a tradition going back at least as far as the United Irishmen - a tradition where Irish men and women sought by force of arms to remove British rule from Ireland.
The second narrative, the unionist one, is that the IRA were a gang of murderers who rebelled against the lawfully-constituted authorities and were guilty of horrendous crimes, include the murder of policemen, UDR men and even innocent civilians.
There’s nothing surprising about the existence of competing views. It’s hard to think of any conflict where both sides agreed in their interpretation of what happened or was happening. If they did agree, there would be no conflict. So it's hardly surprising that Gerry Kelly praised the dead IRA volunteers in his speech last Sunday, and unsurprising that it has attracted unionist criticism.
Repugnant though it may be, each side has to accept that the other’s narrative/interpretation of events is sincerely held. For as long as we try to ram our interpretation down the throats of those on the other side, the longer we’ll remain stuck in this hopeless hole in the road. Let’s stop concentrating on what divides us and look for those things which unite us. That way, we may make better progress down Reconciliation Road.
Newsflash: I’ve just had a call from the Nolan Show explaining that other topics have indeed squeezed this one out. On the other hand, it’s helped me clarify my own thinking on the subject, and I always find that useful.