My input to the Nolan Show which was originally to be yesterday was in fact today. I was on with Tom Elliott, former leader of the UUP, and the debate was probably useless, if you define ‘useful’ as something that moves us forward.
I remember Robert Ballagh the famous painter once saying that there are a number of trigger words in this society which send people spinning into irrationality. Words like ‘united Ireland’ and ‘Ulster’ and ‘terrorism’. Tom and I were discussing terrorism, in the light of Gerry Kelly’s comments on yesterday’s Nolan Show. Tom was arguing that Gerry Kelly and the IRA were a bunch of terrorists who are now intent on setting a ‘shrine to terrorism’ at Long Kesh/the Maze. My point was that it doesn’t matter whether people use terrorist/guerrilla tactics (as did Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara and the French Resistance) or whether they approach the enemy in massed ranks dressed in uniform, as in World War One. The upshot is the same - death. In other words, terrorism is a methodology, not a philosophy. It’s another way of killing people, and if you think that killing people is wrong, you won’t give a damn whether it’s done using one tactic or another. As to the ‘shrine’ at Long Kesh/the Maze, the facts of what happened there should be laid out, as they are for example in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. Then let visitors react to those facts as they wish. My own experience of taking the tour of Kilmainham Jail was that I felt chilled to the bone by the terrible things people had done to other people there. A shrine at which to worship? I think not.
Towards the end of my debate with Tom Elliott, a man rang in to berate me for a blog I’d done on the Shankill bomb. I can’t remember exactly what I said in it but I do remember my essential point: that if you define murder as the premeditated taking of someone’s life, then the Shankill bombers weren’t the murderers of the innocent people who were killed by their bomb. Thomas Begley and his companion had the premeditated taking of life in mind all right, but it was the lives of some UDA men, not the fish shop customers. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing one of the bombers and a great number of totally innocent people in a scene of carnage. The bomb brought in by Begley and his companion was responsible for those deaths; but since the deaths of UDA men was their premeditated target, not those who actually were killed, it didn’t fit the definition of murder. Stephen Nolan made the point that the bombers couldn’t possibly have killed the UDA men in the room upstairs without killing lots of innocent customers below. He’s probably right. But that’s conjecture. What we do know is that whatever you call the action, the bomb killed good and innocent people, and the pain is deep and lasting regardless.
In fact, my original blog was probably guilty of the very thing I accused Tom Elliott of this morning - using emotive words. In his case ‘shrine’ and ‘terrorism’, in my case ‘murder’. No matter what you call it, the deaths are still cruel and grim. And by using trigger words, we only inflame passions rather than help people move on.
Last point: I think we’re being held prisoner by the dead. That is, we’re so obsessed with what has happened, and defining what words we should use of it, we can’t quite get round to mapping out a future and working for that. Maybe, as well as a six-month moratorium on marching, we should have a six-month moratorium on talking about the past, beyond acknowledging that terrible hurt was inflicted on both sides. Don’t let’s call it ‘shrine’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘murder’ or anything else - let’s call it a day on all that. We really have hurt each other enough. Let’s instead discuss practicalities for a shared future.
Welcome, Dr Haas.