Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 58 – “Who Can We Trust?”
Monday 14th November 2005
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Dr Hazlett Lynch
(Members of West Tyrone Voice Victims’ Group)
Chaired by Roy Garland (Irish News columnist, and Co-chair, Guild of Uriel)
Welcome and introductions: John Clancy
Opening words: Roy Garland
Questions and comments
Closing words: Roy Garland and Julitta Clancy
Appendix: West Tyrone Voice – information
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS
John Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “Good evening and thank you all for coming. Just to introduce our guest chair tonight: Roy Garland has never spared himself in working for understanding between the diverse political cultures in Northern Ireland, but also our own diverse political culture down here, working to foster understanding and to reach across over the last number of years. I was saying to Roy tonight, that all he needs to do is to tell the car to go south and it will know exactly where to go! The amount of times Marion and Roy have come south – for meetings, discussions, seminars – is just incredible. Roy is one of those people whose efforts have largely been unrecognised to date, particularly in this State. But the great thing about Roy, that lack of recognition actually does not in any way make him downhearted, because he is a man with a mission and a vision and he has been a pleasure and an inspiration over the years to know, a very special person in terms of helping to shape new directions on this island….
1916 commemorations: “A couple of weekends ago, we were with Roy and the Guild of Uriel and others in Enniskillen and Rossnowlagh [Co. Donegal] and in the course of our discussions we got to talking about 1916 (in the light of the Government’s decision to re-introduce the Easter military parade in Dublin)…. It was an amazing year in terms of the island of Ireland – apart from the Easter Rising, over 10,000 Irishmen lost their lives in the Great War in that year alone. …. And the question arose – will we be celebrating or commemorating? This is something we need to think about… The Meath Peace Group hopes to host a discussion in the Spring of 2006 on this theme – if any of you have ideas or suggestions on this, please get in touch with one of the committee.
“Now, I will hand over to Roy to chair this evening’s discussion….”
Chair: Roy Garland
“Thank you very much, John…. I feel in a sense very humbled to be chairing this meeting tonight, because I know there is a wealth of experience here and a wealth – maybe wealth is the wrong word – of hurt and pain, and some of the people I am sitting with have been through some horrific experiences which even we in Belfast don’t know much about, coming from West Tyrone and facing daily threats, worrying about your own security, your family. Sometimes the worst thing is what’s happening to your family when you are out there looking after your community …. But the family is left at home and the wife is there and they have to fend in a way that the men out there don’t have to.
“I know some of the people out there have gone through some horrific experiences. I actually met Hazlett [Lynch] and Leslie – the brother of one of tonight’s speakers – about 12, 15 years ago down the country, and Leslie was very good about problems with your knee and that sort of thing. We got to know each other and eventually Hazlett came down and it has been a really terrific experience getting to know some of these men and hearing some of their stories and they are all going to say a bit about their experiences. …
“Hazlett is going to introduce the topic of victimhood – he is the leader of the West Tyrone Voice which he will tell you about himself. ”
1. Dr. Hazlett Lynch (West Tyrone Voice)
“…. I would like to thank Julitta and the Meath Peace Group for their very kind and warm invitation to address the meeting tonight and also for the opportunity to bring some of my very close friends with me to this particular meeting.
West Tyrone Voice: “We are all members of the West Tyrone Voice Victims’ group. The West Tyrone Victims’ group is the largest victims’ group, not only in Northern Ireland, not only in the British Isles, but probably in Western Europe. We have a beneficiary base of somewhere like 2,300 as direct and indirect beneficiaries of the services that we offer and our work is located not far from the border with the Irish Republic. There have been about 231 people murdered from our group area, which covers something like 1500 square miles. So it is a fairly big area, probably most of the west of the Bann – the River Bann divides Northern Ireland diagonally. We have about 600 members in the group. We are currently down to four members of staff. We had seven at one time, but, like other organisations that are dependent totally on funding, when the powers-that-be decide that funding is no longer to be allocated then sadly people have to go and it doesn’t seem to matter too much whether the work we are trying to do is of benefit, contributing to a better Northern Ireland for people or anything like that. They just decide there is no funding, hard cheese, on your bike, that’s basically it.
Personal background: “My own brother was murdered back in 1977 by the Provisional IRA, 22 years of age. He was 9 months in the police, he was a police officer, the youngest of my brothers. I have one other younger brother and a younger sister.
Good Friday/Belfast Agreement has ‘elevated the guilty’: “West Tyrone Voice was founded in 1999, just after the Belfast Agreement – or the Good Friday Agreement, whatever name you give to it. Maybe the Good Friday Agreement is a good name for it, because if you remember back to the very first Good Friday it was the guilty who was released, and it was the innocent who died. …. That is exactly what the Agreement has done in Northern Ireland. It has elevated the guilty and it has sought to demonise, to ostracize, to marginalise and to alienate the people who suffered horrendously at the hands of the people who were promoted and who now prance around the world stage masquerading as peacemakers, and that doesn’t bring any joy to any of our hearts up here at the table.
Trust a ‘vitally important’ issue: “The whole area of trust is something that is problematic. Trust is a problematic issue in any case and certainly within the context of Northern Ireland. And we could think of Israel, we could think of South Africa, we could think of the Balkans where trust is a vitally important issue and yet not something that can be resolved. During the past 80+ years of Northern Ireland’s very colourful history, while there have been wrongs on both sides of the community, for any one section of that community to resort to a vociferous, bloody, diabolical campaign of terrorism, to right what was essentially a political wrong, beggars belief. Yet that is what we have been putting up with for the last 36 years.
IRA campaign ‘not over’: “It is not over yet and I think people would be very, very foolish if they believed that the IRA’s campaign was over. It isn’t over … Adams said on a chat show – was it this week or towards the end of last week? – that “the war is over.” The problem I have with that is I don’t believe the guy …. …and I think of a group of dog owners who are having a dinner, conference, in a hotel in Belfast when …. PIRA torched the place. Yet, what does he tell the world? He was never in the IRA. Do you believe that? We certainly don’t believe that!” [Editor’s note: Hazlett Lynch referred us to Richard English’s book Armed Struggle (Pan: London, 2004), pp.105 and 110]
“Yet he is the president [of Sinn Féin], mirroring the President of this country. It is not without significance that they use the same terminology to describe the leader of that terrorist organisation.
“They still claim that Sinn Féin is the legitimate government of Ireland and the IRA is the legitimate army of Ireland. They have never rescinded that, at least not to my knowledge, and that army has been governed, controlled, given its orders, by the army council which includes the same Mr. Adams. Michael McDowell [Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform] told us the last time we were down here that the information they had was that those guys are still in the IRA’s army council [Editor’s note: for text of Minister’s speech see report of Meath Peace Group public talk No. 57, 20 June 2005, available on the website].
“McGuinness … he is a ‘peacemaker’ as well, by the way, if you missed that bit. He is a ‘man of peace.’ He was the Minister of Education in Northern Ireland who didn’t know what the word “decommissioning” meant, which I thought was quite interesting. These guys have denied that they were involved in the IRA and yet they think that we are stupid enough to believe their lies. We don’t believe their lies. So when they say ‘the war is over’ or when they say they have decommissioned all of their armaments, all their weapons, I certainly don’t believe them. These other men with me can speak for themselves. I don’t believe them. Their campaign has taken a turn, it has changed. It has moved from barefacedly murdering people to poisoning them with drugs. But they are still killing people. They are still destroying lives. They are still exiling people. They are still holding their own communities under their control. That is still happening. The poor decent Catholic/nationalist people of Northern Ireland are still under the clutches of these guys, these terrorists who masquerade as politicians. I think that is probably the best way of putting it.”
Personal experiences: “In our group at the moment, forty people are still under death threats by the paramilitaries. These two men here live within one mile of the border, this other man lives within five miles of the border. I was brought up within, as the crow flies, five miles of the border. My primary education was close to where I lived. My secondary and technical education for five years was right on the border, Strabane/Castlederg. My further technical education was in Londonderry, right on the border, and then I escaped to Leeds for a few years and that was a relief in those days. But even there I always had to tune in to what was happening back home, because my father and mother were at home, my two brothers and sister were at home, my grandparents were at home. So you couldn’t get away from it, even when you were over in England.
Building trust and confidence: “Within our particular sector – the victims’ sector – we have been given funding by the UK Government and by the European Union with the express purpose of trying to build trust and confidence within our people. Given the fact that where we live and work, people from our community are less than 32% of the population, we are a minority group, a minority population within a majority Catholic/nationalist community.
Catholic/nationalist community and votes for Sinn Féin
“The really sad thing about the Catholic/nationalist community amongst whom we live and work is – and I know this will be challenged, I think there is somebody here who will challenge this point – that the vast majority of people from the Catholic and nationalist community have voted for Sinn Féin which, in my book, is a vote for violence, terrorism, oppressive campaigning and other forms of violence. They vote for Sinn Féin knowing right well what they are, they vote for them knowing right well what they have done over the last 80 years, 85 years. They know the horrendous pain and suffering that that terrorist party has inflicted upon my community in West Tyrone and, knowing all that, they still say ‘these are good guys, these are the people who have got the best chance of getting us a united Ireland, because we will shoot the Prods and we will bomb the Prods, and we will intimidate the Prods. We will break them so that they will have to give in to a United Ireland’.”
“And the Catholic/nationalist community in West Tyrone is saying ‘these are good guys, they are going the way we want to go’. So they put their X on the ballot paper for these murderous thugs.
Confidence-building difficulties: “In our work, we are supposed to build confidence in people. How can you build confidence in people when 40 of their fellow members of our organisation, at least 40 are still under death threat from Gerry’s boys? You tell me how I am supposed to do that. You tell me how I am supposed to get our people in a very real sense to be able to come out of their house, get into their car without checking under their car, without checking under the wheel arches, without checking under the floor of the car?
“If you can tell me how I can increase confidence in our people in that area, in that situation, then I want to know because it has beaten me for the last 6 or 7 years that I have been working at this. I don’t know how to do it and I suppose as the leader of the group in some ways, I have taken considerable risks with our people to try to build bridges, to try to promote peace, to try to promote reconciliation North and South and cross-community. I have been doing that since just after we started. And a good number of our people will now come with me to things like this and meet with people like you and we are delighted to have links with the Meath Peace Group and with the Guild of Uriel, Roy’s group – delighted to have relationships with the folks here.
Funding difficulties: “And even though we have worked hard and tried hard, at times it has cost us in the work we have been trying to do. Because our work and the thrust of our work does not fit into the neat little pigeon holes that government and the European Programme has arbitrarily decided upon ……I received a letter in the office today, saying we have been turned down for funding from the Community Relations Council. So I ask myself: is there any point in me or my group even being involved in this type of work? Because unless you fit the criteria of ‘faceless men in grey suits’ who have decided upon this somewhere, we are not going to be able to get the where-withall to do that work. Over the last number of years, we felt we couldn’t trust the system, certainly within the funding end of things, because up to then we had been fairly successful in securing funding for the work that we are doing, even though most of it would have had a training emphasis. I am now starting to think: is my trust in the funding organisations misplaced?
“What is the point of putting myself through all the turmoil of application after application and interview after interview if at the end of the day, the only work that will be funded by the funding bodies is the work that dovetails exactly into their predetermined agenda? That is a challenge we have to face, but certainly it has challenged our trust in the whole funding system.”
Disparities in funding: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so trusting of the funding system. I’ll tell you why I say that. Our office is in Newtownstewart – about 10 miles south of Strabane, 10 miles north of Omagh, just bang in the middle of those two principal towns. We reckon there are somewhere around 18-20 republican ex-prisoners in and around the Strabane area. They have secured almost half a million pounds to run their programmes with those 18-20 prisoners or ex-prisoners, and let’s use a multiplier of 4 for the sake of fairness – they are working with about 80 people to secure half a million pound plus about another £250,000 that came after that for 80 people. We are working with 2, 300 people and we get nowhere near that. And I ask you the question, ‘why is that being done?”
“I think the Government knows that we are no threat. I suppose it is only fair that I should disclose at this point that we came here tonight with arms with us – there they are: we have got 8 arms with us [points to his arm]. So we are no threat to the Government. We are no threat to their plans and their schemes and their regimes. But do you see the fellows in Strabane – well I wish the only arms they had were like these, because they are still armed to the teeth. The main terrorist organisation operating in Strabane is not the IRA who told us that they have decommissioned all their weapons. It is the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). They are not on ceasefire. They have never been involved in any kind of ‘peace process’ so called. They have never been involved in any kind of negotiations to try and bring about some kind of settlement within Northern Ireland, nothing like that. But they are a threat to the government and if you want to be able to pursue your policies, what you have to do is to keep the greatest threat on side with you, so you give them half a million and we get a fraction of that.”
Terminology – ‘survivors’/’victims’: “Even talking like this I suppose I am in the danger of depressing not only my own friends here but you folks as well. We are a victims’ group. The four of us are victims, we are working with victims. One of the very clever things – and it is clever, I take my hat off to the people who have thought this up – is: ‘Victim’ – ‘you don’t want to use that word because the word ‘victim’ is very disempowering. It takes the fight out of people. You are far better to call yourself a ‘survivor’ because then you could fight them and you will take on things and you will do things. You will achieve things, you will conquer, you’ll overcome.’ I don’t agree with that.
“When we were formed we didn’t have a lot of confidence but we had enough confidence and common sense to see that there is a need out there and a group of us banded together in order to form this organisation. We had very little support, nobody knew about us. Nobody knew what we were doing, what we wanted to do, so in a very real sense we were disempowered people. But I have come to this conclusion that the groups in Northern Ireland who prefer to call themselves ‘survivors’ groups are really to be pitied and I feel sorry for them because they are the groups – despite their name ‘survivors’, despite the description that they use to tell people who they are ‘well we’re survivors, we don’t like the term victim’ – they are the very people who are not prepared to stand up and tell the powers-that-be what it’s like. They just accept all the rubbish that the Government throws at them. They are groups that are really funding-driven. So they have been disempowered. They are to be pitied and they call themselves ‘survivors.’
“We call ourselves ‘victims’ and one thing that will never be able to be said about our group is that we are disempowered, because we have taken our people to the highest levels.
“We have met with Government and Cabinet ministers. We have told them what our experience has been. We have told them our needs. We have asked for their help, not gone ‘cap in hand’. We have presented them with the situation. ‘This situation in Northern Ireland has ultimately your fingerprints on it. You are responsible for looking after the people who have suffered and whose loved ones have paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, for decency, for law and order, for democracy in our country.’
“We have gone to them and we have told them that, we have gone to London and we have told them that. We have spoken to ministers from Dublin, we have told them that. We have taken our people to Brussels and we have told them the same things.
Are we disempowered? We call ourselves ‘victims’. We are ‘victims’ but there is more ‘true grit’ within the views of the people I work with than the people who call themselves the politically correct term ‘survivors.’
“There haven’t been too many people who have come and have said to us: ‘Look, what can we do for you?’ Oh yes, you get the Government ministers saying: ‘What are your needs? We want to know what your needs are. Tell us what you want us to do for you.’ Our experience has been, the Government has already made up its mind what it is going to do and – ‘stuff you, but we will put on this nice show’.
Cosmetic exercise: “There has got to be this cosmetic exercise gone through. Tony [Blair] is into these focus groups. He has invented focus groups and we are consultation-weary in our organisation! Consultation files are hardly opened. That is not a good policy because sometimes you get a chance to say things that have to be said to people who maybe want to hear and because you filed them in file 13, they don’t get the chance to hear it. He has asked through his ministers time and time again, “what are your needs?” We have told them what our needs are and they haven’t paid one blind bit of notice to what we have said to them. Then we ask ourselves the question: ‘how do we trust a lying prime minister? How do you do that?’
Hypocrisy: “Some of the most notorious scoundrels in Western Europe were ministers in our Executive. You should be glad that poor aul’ Bertie has more sense than that. He says: ‘Oh we don’t want these boys near us. There is no way I am having those boys in my government. I would rather be in opposition than have those gangsters in government here in the Republic.’ Fair play to the man, but he needs to ‘wake up and smell the coffee,’ because he is speaking with a ‘forked tongue.’ He is hypocritical to an unbelievable degree, because it is good enough for us. Anything will do the people up in the ‘black north’. I am sure you have heard that phrase. We’re the people from the ‘black north’. We’re not fully human beings, no we’re just people from the ‘black north’, Prods from the ‘black north’. We don’t count for anything. Anything will do them and that’s the message Bertie is putting out to us. And we wonder sometimes, how do we come to trust the Prime Minister of our nearest international neighbour?”
Northern Ireland a ‘foreign’ country: “And I am glad to be speaking at this conference, I suppose as an ‘international speaker,’ because I am in a different country. I take off my hat to your Government, that the guy from your Government who looks after Northern Ireland is known as the ‘Foreign Minister’. So at least the Government knows that Northern Ireland is a ‘foreign’ country and sends the Foreign Minister to deal with us. Long may that continue!
Building trust in context of ‘nazi’ remarks: “Just one or two other things, then I am going to ask my friends here to say a word or two. How are we to trust the second largest ethnic cultural religious group in Northern Ireland? When I say this I am not anti-Catholic, because we have a growing number of people from the Catholic community who are active members of our group and they are gems. They are really, really fine people. They have been to England with us, they have gone to other places with us. We have done things together. Good people. But I am left wondering: if a senior nationalist figure thinks of me as a ‘nazi’ – I’m speaking about your President – and if a senior churchman, Mr. Alec Reid, thinks of me, my people. as ‘nazi’, and if the main – you’ll shoot me Roy when I say this – if the main nationalist newspaper in Northern Ireland, for which Roy writes an article every Monday, describes me and my people as ‘nazis’ – that is offensive. I was speaking to a Jewish friend of mine just last Thursday in Belfast and she was appalled at that language from Reid. If these representatives of Catholic nationalism view the Protestant people as nazis, how are we ever to come to the point where we can trust them?
“If that is said once, you could say ‘right, it is a Freudian slip or something like that. Give it a fancy name’. If it happens twice, you could say ‘well it is coincidence’. When it happens three times, then you start to wonder if that is how my Catholic neighbours and friends view me, that makes it difficult for me to trust and if you good people – probably most of you are from the Catholic community – if you can give me help, and I am asking for your help, if you can give me help to be able to trust your community, I want it. I want it, because it almost seems that, contrary to what Mary McAleese alleged against our people, it almost seems that people from her community have been taught that the Prods are nazis and they have drunk that in with their mother’s milk. It seems that way. If that isn’t the case, I’d be delighted to hear that. Please assure me that it isn’t, but that is how the people from my community actually see it. … Thank you.”
Roy Garland: “Well, thank you, Hazlett. I am sure you have a lot of questions to ask, if you hold them all till the end and now I will ask Raymond to speak…”
2. Raymond Finlay (Chair of West Tyrone Voice)
“I am not used to speaking. Although I am retired now, in my job I controlled a pile of men, but that was different. In that respect, I would be talking electrical work and there was no problem there. But this is more heart talk and I do find it very hard to talk at times.
Revenge the easy option: “…. I have lost five relatives: a brother, a nephew and three cousins and many, many a friend. How did I cope with that? I am a Christian and that possibly, I do assure you, stopped me taking the easy option. The easy option would be to look for revenge. That was offered to many a victim. People don’t realise that at times. That would have been the easy option, just to go out and kill some of their Roman Catholic friends. It did happen in places, and I am sorry for that, it shouldn’t have happened. As Christians we should have waited for the Lord to take his revenge and each one of us will have to answer to the Lord on our last day.
West Tyrone Voice: “I am very, very happy to be a member of West Tyrone Voice. We formed the organisation, as Hazlett has told you, in 1998/9. We had been talking about this for some time. We all had the same idea. The first thing we thought of: there were many old people there, that weren’t being looked after. Outreach workers seemed to be the natural thing to look for as well as all the other expertise that we could give them and pay for.
Funding: “Grants, as Hazlett was telling you there, were very awkward to come by. That is one thing. We started off the first year and a half I think with about 175 members. At that stage, we had 2 field/outreach/friendship workers, call them what you will, but somebody to go and knock at the doors. We’d go and knock at the doors of homes even now and we wouldn’t be allowed in the first time till people would check us out and then maybe we would be invited back. That is the way we were working. But instead of going forward and having five or six friendship workers at this stage, we are down to one. A lot of people don’t realise it, the restraints we are working under. And the problem there, even the one person we have we can’t afford him full time, so we do get private donations from members and different people and that has helped to employ him as much as possible. Scary, but all these things over the last year is the peace. The peace seems to be only in one group’s thinking. The mentality of Sinn Fein and it certainly has been backed by the SDLP. The SDLP lost out I think because of that. They were just the ‘yes men’ to Sinn Fein over the last few years and now they have lost nationalist people.
Roman Catholics in the forces: “Hazlett mentioned the voting. Our Roman Catholic friends – I worked with Roman Catholics, a good portion of Roman Catholics all the time. The area I come from would be something like 95% nationalist area, some great friends. Whenever I became a member of the UDR [Ulster Defence Regiment], we talked it over at work and we decided this is a good thing to go for, we will all get into it and this will be peace. But then the Roman Catholic person, he was intimidated out of the forces so he couldn’t do anything, because he’d be leaving his family open to attack.
Victims/survivors: “To call us survivors, it’s very hard, I was talking to a person there earlier and it is very hard to know what to call it. We are just victims, innocent victims I would like to think, not a perpetrator that has caused his own death, whether by suicide or taking other lives and lost his life because the security forces happen to come on site. I’ll leave it for now….”
Chair (Roy Garland): “If we could move over to Gamble, if you could say a few words Gamble.
3. Gamble Moore
“I’ll speak at a lower level than my two friends here and at a personal level.
Who can I trust? “Who can I trust? I worked as a maintenance fitter in factories. I also was a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Now as you go through life, you see about dates, what date does this conjure up or what date did that conjure up, such as President Kennedy being assassinated and what have you? But to me a date stands out in my mind is the 22 November 1973. Why? Because on that day I was sentenced to die. Who did it? Who brought the charges against me? Who was the jury? Who was the judge and who appointed the executioner? The IRA.”
“Coming from my work, there was an assassination attempt made on me. I was shot 3 times. My wife was in the car and 3 other workmates….. I was shot in the neck, the chest and the shoulder. Now who set me up? My workmates. I had socialised with them, went out for a drink with them and what have you. They set me up, and who tried to shoot me? One of my workmates. He never was caught, he cleared to Canada after it. Therefore who can I trust?”
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you very much Gamble. I suppose that’s one of the hardest things to take – when your own friends set you up and that sort of thing. I am going to pass you over now to Billy who has had a long and difficult experience.
4. Billy Harpur
“Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen. I take a more radical view as we are democratic in the West Tyrone Voice. We say what we like. Nobody writes what we have to say when we meet in these groups.
Personal experience: “I have 30 years experience in the security forces
I have lost two brothers and I lost my son who was twelve years in the RIR [Royal Irish Regiment]. I myself was a victim of attempted murder four times. I was shot in the thigh and they attempted to blow me up by semtex. I was travelling in a car with a driver and when I looked around he had no head and I wondered what hit me on this part of the jaw and it was his teeth and there were just a couple of strings coming out of his neck and I will never forget him sitting at the steering wheel and looking at his wedding ring and he never moved. It was outside a public house and they came out of the public house and threw beer on top of him and spat on him. There was a third person in the car and he was out on the road and he had lost part of his leg and an eye and his face was just like the back of a fireplace, so he was crawling out onto the middle of the road and I got him up into the side of the road….
“We’ll get into this a bit more. I have lost my religion over these Troubles
I think I have lost my religion, we’ll put it that way. I no longer go to church. My son goes to church, the other son I have. I have ten grandchildren. I have a daughter who was 15 before she’d lift a telephone, because of what she heard on the other end of it.
I got Christmas cards with black coffins on them and I am one of the people that is still on the death list.
Who can we trust? “And who can we trust? I have no fear. I have no fear of anybody now. I have come through that much. I listened to Hazlett speaking tonight and I thought he spoke very well. Something I always think, I mean there is no difference in anybody’s grief. There is no difference in Protestant grief, Roman Catholic grief, it is all the same. But with my experience of the police, the superior officers don’t want to know me anymore because of this so-called decommissioning and peace. Now I am an embarrassment to them because I am one of those people who fought their battles when they needed it. When that fellow had lost his head in the explosion, they were putting me back into an ambulance and there came an inspector and he says “I have no men on, I need that man to do another eight hours.” So I was taken back out of the ambulance and made do another eight hours of duty and I didn’t know where I was in doing duty or not, I am not worried about telling you. I am still on 325 mg of an anti-depressant plus other medication. At 49 I had two heart attacks and I had heart bypass done at 50. Two months later I got cancer and I survived that.
“So I am a survivor. I am looking for a better place for my 10 grandchildren and I don’t want a place where terrorists are running it. Where we live, a mile from the border, there is Real IRA, which planted ….a bomb three days before we came here. There is Continuity IRA and there is INLA [Irish National Liberation Army]. But let me explain something about those three organisations. Those 3 organisations are the people who were discontented and … they are all SF/Provisional IRA, they just go under another name, they are disillusioned. …”
Double standards: “... Bertie Ahern made the statement today that Sinn Féin would never be in government in the Republic of Ireland. So is it all right for them to be in government in Northern Ireland? Is that ok? Does it really matter? We don’t trust Tony Blair by no means. We don’t trust.Patten, we don’t trust any of the police at the minute, who were my bosses for years.
We will survive: “And we have survived and we will be survivors. We will survive. I definitely will survive anyway, because I am not lying down to anybody or I am not letting anybody put me out of my home. And I was asked by the police, as these men know here, to leave my home ten times, to move ten times, and one of the superintendents come to my wife, as the last time I wouldn’t move. He says: ‘I am only here to tell you this time, so that you don’t come back when your husband is shot and tell me that you weren’t warned, I never warned you”.
Protestant grief no different from Roman Catholic grief: “So you know I am a happy go lucky man and have survived a lot of attempted murders…. .We can trust no one, but at the same time with my radical views I would like to have friendship, which we have with everybody. Three out of every five Roman Catholics in our area voted for Sinn Féin in the last election, so I mean they have the support in our area. …. But lost ones, loved ones are just the same on both sides. [quote from a booklet] This was said in a wee book that a clergyman wrote there at the weekend. “When Fr. Reid passed his comment about the unionist community, there were words which were quite offensive to many different people and communities.” Generalisation – tar everyone in the same community in the same way. …There has been a lot of pain and grief and many people lost on both sides of the religious divide. Protestant grief is no different from Roman Catholic grief. Everybody wants to move on. But we are not prepared to move on, on Tony Blair’s or Gerry Adams or anybody else’s [agenda]. We want a fair society for what we’ve come through for 30 odd years and I thank you very much for your time.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Chair (Roy Garland): “Thank you very much and thanks to all of you. In listening to some of the pretty horrific stories, something comes from the Quakers. I often attend a Quaker meeting and I remember one Quaker saying: ‘sometimes in response to the world and the downside of the world the only proper response is silence’ and sometimes I feel like that when you hear these terrible stories and we haven’t heard half of it. Man’s inhumanity to man, in a sense it does silence you, because what can you say? We have done such terrible things to each other. There is nothing more to say in a sense and … it’s taken a lot of courage on the part of the men who are sitting here with me. I feel very privileged to be with them. It takes a lot of courage to come out and actually express these things and it’s not easy. I am very grateful to them for what they have shared with us and I know there is a lot more. Now I want to open the meeting to questions and I think we are all friends here and I am sure the people, in a sense do feel very much with them……..
Death threats: “Maybe I should start the questions. The thing about the INLA and the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and the IRA – are you still suffering threats to this day?
Roy: “And are those coming from the INLA?
Billy: “No I say they are coming from Provisional IRA, rebels who have left Provisional IRA and go under a different name. I mean it’s just known, it’s fact.”
Roy: “How do you live with this to this day?”
Billy: “I live with it with my attitude to life. My attitude to life has always been I’ve been under threat for so long now I always think I’ve got to guard, but you still have to come out your front door.
“And just if I could put a thing in here which I forgot. Two years after the Good Friday Agreement, they tried to murder my wife and I in the front garden. They took over a house across the street. This is two years after, this is why I am on about this IRA. Two years after the Good Friday Agreement, but how do I live with it? Maybe I’ll tell you more about it. I always think that, alright I’m living, but you always think about your wife and children. They are in a worse situation than you and you’re trying to protect them and when you’ve lost so much. Friends that I have lost I just don’t know Roy. I get strength out of somewhere to go on. Although I’ve had my…I mean I got strength. The strength that I got. I was down to the lowest I was down, till Hazlett Lynch met me and brought me around through the West Tyrone Voice. I was down to the ground with drugs. I was taking seventeen drugs a day and that is the first man that brought me back. West Tyrone Voice brought me back….”
Q.1. Fintan Mullaly (Dublin): “…. I’m not a member of this group. I’m from Pax Christi in Dublin, but basically I feel an awful lot of pain on that side of the table there and I get the same feeling from Mr. Gallagher whom I go up and meet in Omagh.
Roots of the Troubles: “We’re all sort of in the same situation. I am the descendant of two Northerners, one from Derry and one from Fermanagh…. They in their time had to come south because there were no jobs if you wanted to get over a certain level. There was a certain barrier for a Catholic … in your force, the head constable or somewhere, he couldn’t get above that. You couldn’t get to inspector. Now you had the same situation, right up to the time that John Hume started conscientious, ideal peace by peaceful means and they walked and they marched and they met in opposition. At that stage there was no real big numbers in the IRA, to the best of our knowledge, dare I say. ….But the thing was that that was like as if it was an insurrection coming for no apparent reason, but it had been like cinders, all you needed was to get a blow at it. Once fifteen people were murdered …… including a distant relation of mine. They had done nothing, they had no weapons, no nothing and yet the forces of the Crown whose names have never been given as to who they are, they’ve never stood culpable for what they did, because they had made the problem that you now have.
Gerrymandering: “But all those years back, I had one of my cousins who came home, the first civil servant to get a job in the Guild Hall in Derry.
“Up until then no Catholic was allowed see the books. It was dangerous to let Catholics inside. The same with the RUC. If at a certain level you had violence, they were in an area that they wouldn’t get their hands on it. But I think your whole basic problem started with the gerrymandering thing, which most people here know about, that the man who owned a house got a vote. If you were a tenant of the council in a house, you didn’t have a vote, but the man down the street who employed you had maybe 2 or 3 votes.
“So therefore in Derry County Council where you had 70% Catholic out of the entire council there was only one or two councillors Catholic and the rest were all Protestant, which was a complete gerrymandering system.”
Voting for Sinn Féin: “Continue right up to this day. You’re saying that people vote for Sinn Féin. Why would they vote for the weaker of the two as they saw it in order to get someone elected? They had to vote for Sinn Féin, because you don’t have a transferable vote.
Billy Harpur: “You’re talking about them voting for Sinn Féin, well it was John Hume of the SDLP party who got the biggest vote in Derry at that time. Thirty years ago, when I joined the police my two inspectors were Roman Catholics, thirty years ago and you got up about the gerrymandering. I do believe that years and years, the hierarchy from England, maybe the old unionist party did discriminate, but not just against Catholics. It was also against Protestants, ordinary working Protestants and Catholics. They were no different and the biggest vote ever got in Londonderry was by John Hume who was an SDLP man. Well once John Hume left a space, you can see where the votes are going now. They are going back to Sinn Féin.
Bloody Sunday : “I assume you referred to Bloody Sunday, the shootings, well that has never been proved yet. The outcome of that is come yet. There were two policemen shot two days before Bloody Sunday and Martin McGuinness does admit that he was commander-in-chief in the Bogside two days before Bloody Sunday. Therefore he should have been charged with the murder of those two men, if they were shot two days before Bloody Sunday, if he admits he was commander-in-chief at that time, so it is the truth that the IRA was in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday.
Fintan: “I never said they weren’t in the Bogside, I said they were targeted”
Billy: “There were arms in the Bogside.”
Roy Garland: “Can you clarify just one point on the voting thing? I think it is important to clarify. It was voting in local government, it wasn’t Stormont or Westminster and it was whoever was in the household and it was the same in unionist areas and nationalist areas?”
Billy: “There was no difference.”
Roy: “That’s right. There was no difference. In working class areas, there were fewer votes and the same system applied in England but it was abolished in 1944. But I mean it was strong and in the Catholic community most….”
Hazlett: Re gerrymandering: “…. Gerrymandering is fundamentally wrong, it cannot be justified. It cannot be rationalised. But I think we have got to place the whole gerrymandering regime in the context of the times. When Northern Ireland came into being in the early 1920s, you had a situation where approximately one third of the population didn’t want to be in Northern Ireland. You had a third of the population that was intent upon the destruction of Northern Ireland as a political entity. John Hume used this mantra for years and years and years: ‘50 years of unionist misrule in Northern Ireland’ or, as he would probably say, “in the north”. John was a teacher but he didn’t seem to realise that Donegal was the North but it is not in Northern Ireland….
Nationalist ‘non-cooperation’: John Hume’s mantra was ‘50years of unionist misrule’. What he didn’t also say was that from his own community there were 50 years of non-cooperation with the State, deliberate, planned, orchestrated, and that the Roman Catholic Church was leading that orchestration of non-cooperation with the State in Northern Ireland, and even to this day, there will be a fair section of people, probably all those who voted for Sinn Féin, who still will refuse to give any kind of meaningful cooperation to the working of Northern Ireland. The only exception to that is when they draw their giros on the government and their hundreds, multiple hundreds of pounds per week, to keep them living at a standard that I couldn’t afford. That is the only time they cooperate with the State. Outside of that there is still this entrenched attitude of non-cooperation with the State, no matter how they try to call it or to name it otherwise.”
Fintan: “… [Edward] Carson said: this is ‘a Protestant State for a Protestant people’.”
Hazlett: “Do you know the context of that? It was in response to a statement made in Dublin. They wanted a ‘a Catholic parliament for a Catholic people’.”
Fintan: “So it’s tit for tat all the time?”
Hazlett: “It was responsive.”
Fintan: “… You mentioned the point about people calling you certain names. I have heard the Reverend Ian using a certain term against the leader of our church and I wouldn’t like to repeat it. But the thing is, as long as there is that tit for tat, the hostility will always be under the surface. I used to enjoy going down to the Guildhall for the 12th July and sitting up looking at all the bands and all the rest of it, the same as your people possibly from down south here for our Easter parade, but I don’t agree with our Bertie doing what he is doing – resurrecting something for this Easter. But thanks for coming down. In case you think I am against you, I am very sympathetic.”
Hazlett: “Thank you”.
Roy: “An important point in relation to that is: if there was discrimination, does discrimination justify murder? And it is important because it was a democratic society, it wasn’t a fascist society and there were means of protesting. The civil rights movement did protest, in fact most of the demands were conceded through the civil rights movement and the agitation.
Fintan: “One point, you mentioned about Bertie [Ahern] making a decision about never taking Sinn Féin into Government. You are right in so far as they are the words. He would not dare say that he would consider it, because tomorrow morning Mary Harney would be out, right? That’s the first point.
“The thing is he also knows that if he was to say within his own party, that he was going to coalesce with Sinn Féin, his own party would lose half their votes, because they have what they call the ‘floating vote’. He only has 21% of standard votes, he has another 12 or 13% of floaters. …”
Q.2. Rev John Clarke (Navan): “I’d just like to thank the panel, thank each of you for sharing with us this evening and naturally, my heart goes out to you. .. It is very much with you indeed and to all victims of the Troubles. It strikes me as a very natural outcome of the Troubles, naturally where there is hurt, where there is a great need for healing and reconciliation afterwards.
“But do you feel that there is a lack of this sort of initiative taking place? Are there other victims’ groups, or survivors’ groups – I know you don’t like that term but you know what I mean – are there other victims groups doing what you do? How are they being funded?”
Hazlett: “…. Decisions will be made over the next number of months about the new round of funding and I know that a sister group in our sector was turned down about 3 or 4 weeks ago, by the same funder for doing similar work that we are doing. But what is happening within our broad sector is that in the wake of the allegations that have been made by senior nationalists in both church and state and in the press, that we are really nazis, there has been, I suppose, an attitude or a responsive recoiling from anybody who would be perceived to hold that view.
“And I would see some of the victims sector, the part at least that we are in, that contact across the community is going to be eased up considerably if not totally stopped. I can see that, because people from my community are fed up being insulted by clergymen, by politicians and by the press, all coming from the same part of the community. And the view seems to be if that is really what they think about us, is there any mileage to be gained in having any kind of contact with them?”
Rev. John Clarke: “I’ve got the point perfectly clearly on that. The whole thrust of your presentation was actually on that particular point. At the end of any conflict, let’s believe there is an end ….. But with relative peace and as part of the process of bringing that forward, there needs to be a healing and reconciliation and a need for whatever fancy terms you like, could you tell me is there sufficient initiative in that department? It is part of the process, this healing and reconciliation, surely to God there are other bodies, be it on the other side of the divide from you or otherwise, who require reconciliation and healing and soothing of the wounds. Surely it is part of any government, north, south, east or west as part of the process? Is anything happening in that department? Are you a lone voice, this West Tyrone Voice? ……. Are we coming at it too soon? I mean are there too many wounds to be revealed at this point in time?”
Hazlett: “I think the Government has really put us into a hothouse situation and they are trying to force reconciliation, trying to manufacture reconciliation within the community and between the communities.
Churches and reconciliation: “But I think probably the most disappointing thing that we have found – and please don’t take this personally John – the most disappointing thing that we have found in our work is that – if we accept a definition of the church as being the ‘community of reconciliation’ – there hasn’t been one clergyman or minister who came into our office to find out ‘who are you, what do you do, what can I do to help?’
“There hasn’t been one. The people [ministers] who have been in our office have been invited by us, but nobody came in from any of the churches, not one single one has ever come and said ‘Look, can we help you, can we support you? Can we do anything for your members who are also our members?’ Not one single person. That is disappointing and the church is supposed to be… one of the definitions within the literature, would describe the church as ‘the community of reconciliation.’ It has failed. One of your colleagues …. a Church of Ireland minister was the reconciliation officer for …..Down and Connor, or Down and something….. And I remember asking him at a conference that we were at, back in April I think it was: ‘do you know of any church that not only preaches about forgiveness but practises it?’
Reconciliation an ‘elitist enterprise’: “And he drew back and he thought and I said… ‘the fact that you have to think about this has given me the answer. I mean this is the church, the Christian church. And then he did say ‘there is only one church that I know that practises what it preaches and that is the Mennonite church in America.’ That was the only example that he could give! Now we are supposed to be looking up to the church and to the church leaders on the local level as well as on the macro level. We haven’t been given anything that would make us want to contact the churches to see can they even work in partnership with us, because the whole reconciliation thing certainly in Northern Ireland is very much an elitist enterprise. It is ministers and clergy from different churches, going off on their wee retreats and having their tea and their coffee and their buns and having nice wee chats coming back again. It is an elitist enterprise. The people in the grass roots are never asked or encouraged to get involved in that kind of thing, but maybe, more to the point, they are not interested in getting involved in that kind of thing, because the people that they would be going to drink their tea and coffee with and eat their buns and their biscuits are probably the very people who have been working with someone, who have been eyeing them up and saying ‘I wonder what I could get you’ and these would be the people who are now involved in the ‘reconciliation industry’ that has been created in Northern Ireland.”
John Clarke: “…: I would not take things personally…. Even remarks like ‘nazis’ washes off me. It has no bearing on me whatsoever. So I don’t get hung up on it. But in fairness you make a statement on the church and we are ….all members of the church I think even in terms of hierarchy, whether it is clergy who go off and have cups of tea and coffee with one another or whoever.
“I mean the church is a great mass and body of people and from a fairness point of view, their responsibility is to preach reconciliation, love and peace and I think …to that aspect of the church they are doing that, I mean we have had our church leaders dominating this in some way, but what is happening is that the great mass of people is not following. And then some groups we meet like your group and clergy cannot be expected to keep knocking on your door …It’s up to them to co-ordinate groups to go in and help you out….
Gamble: “…. a girl came to me at work one day and her mother just had her tenth baby and she said to me: ‘you Protestants, you get everything. You have everything made. You get all the benefits …”. I said ‘hold on a minute.” She lived quite near. I said ‘you live in the same type of house as I am living in and your father works in the same place as I work, the same housing, the same wages. There are five of us and there are ten of you so who is going to spend more money – to spend on a family of five or ten?’. But she couldn’t see that. She maintained that we had everything made. We were getting the same wages as her. We were living in the same housing as her. Everything else was the same. … I said ‘the only thing you can do is to have a word with your father about that, it has nothing to with me’.
Q.3. Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “I have sympathy for the gentlemen here, they call themselves victims – they were victims, they are now victims in Northern Ireland. But with respect there are victims on both sides. But there is no good in raking over the past, what’s done is done. It’s water under the bridge now, it’s history …I don’t like to pre-empt, call it what you will. But in the current situation now there seems to be, there are not as many shots going off. We’ll see what comes out of it. It’s been 35 years …. I think it’s time to bury the hatchet. That’s all I’d like to say.”
Raymond: “How can we trust the system? The system from the Good Friday Agreement hasn’t been fair. I think that is a big problem. It is not being worked fair.
“They’re trying to buy off the government in the Republic and in Britain. They’re trying to buy off the bully boys. It will never work. They have to show that they are sorry for what has happened. Then, we will move forward. But the intimidation of Protestant people against the Roman Catholic people in the North through discrimination of jobs took place in the South here as well. My people are all from the South. So we are going back on it again. So we keep hearing this thing. I will say that if the majority of Roman Catholic people or Hindu or whatever, and there was a minority of people any other place over the world, the majority always rule, whether it was fairly or not. We would think not, but that is the way things are. We didn’t take to arms. That would have been the easy thing. A lot of people don’t realise that. I find it very hard for us to keep our young people and for my father to keep our family. …….I come from a family of 12. None of us got a State handout in our life. My father came north and he was a farm labourer and reared us and put some of us through university…. We worked hard night and day. I went to night school for 5 years to get where I was. I wasn’t asking somebody else to do it for me. That’s what we’re up against. But there again I did cycle to Strabane with two Roman Catholics and three Protestants. Three Protestants and two Roman Catholics. That’s where we come from so talk about trust. We have to have it for each other. It is not one side.
“We are being dictated to, living in the North here, the unionist side, that we have to agree. The Irish government and the British government, they’re trying to push us into a situation. They won’t wait to see things happen in a fair way and they are not being fair.”
Arthur: “What do you think of the current police? Are they an improvement on the RUC or are they doing any good?”
Roy: “Can you hold on a minute? There are three other people wanting in. Julitta?”
Q. 4. Julitta Clancy: “First of all thank you for coming down and sharing. I know that when we were up with you a month ago, we spent a lot of time talking and listening and learning more and it was very, very important for us. Again we came away not knowing what to do. What’s the answer?
“First question – somebody mentioned the word ‘embarrassment’ – is it the case that former members of the security forces and the defence forces in Northern Ireland are more an embarrassment to government, to the unionist people as well? Do you think you are being left behind not just as victims, but in that it is kind of assumed that so much wrong was on your side and that is the perception among the Catholic community.
“Second question: do you think you could ever have a meeting like this or even in private, with a mainly Catholic, Roman Catholic group in your area? Do you see that day coming? Or that it can happen, that your stories can be heard by them and that they would be willing to listen or is that a long, long way off?”
Billy: “I’ll take the one about the security forces, the one that affects me. The security forces don’t want to know me. I am an embarrassment, as you say, to them, because they want to hide me out of the road. I am just a sore now. They want to let on that we never happened, that there wasn’t people who suffered all of this and hide it so that they can go ahead with their peace initiative … the police authority, the hierarchy in the police and the government are destroying this and trying to keep people from getting pensions for injury and duty pensions.
“They are sent to England to be assessed. They are not looking after the members at all. As long as you don’t get annoyed, you’re quite all right. Keep out of the road, say nothing…. This new police force now: I never was on the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland]. I was an RUC man …. what has happened to the police force at the minute; it is just like a car. If you take the engine out of the car, it doesn’t go. When Patten came in, all the senior policemen and all the policemen’s experience, all grabbed their money and left. And now they have an inexperienced police force in there and they can’t cope. And all you have to look at is the criminality with drugs. Now the Special Branch comes in for a lot of stick, a lot a lot of stick through the years, but they would have been aware…..without any bother. People who knew who was around the corner and didn’t do it. So the police force at the present time has a lot of growing up to do in our country and drugs will be rife, criminality will be rife and the most important thing that I think.….was the disbandment of the RIR, the throwing of about 9,000 men …. on the street. …. Some will get into criminality and drug running. … I think there should have been a better way of handling this.”
Roy: “Hazlett, just briefly, because we have a few people waiting with questions, could we have a meeting like this in West Tyrone?”
Hazlett: “I had hoped over the last number of months that that could have been organised. But with statements coming from senior nationalists, I can’t see it. ….and I don’t think the membership would want to go down that road. That is sad, that is very disappointing, but again that wasn’t the situation of our meeting. We were hoping to go in a slightly different direction to that, but because of the turn of events and then with the letter today, that we will not be funded for reconciliation work by the Community Relations Council, that even throws it into greater jeopardy and without resources I can’t see how that will be possible at least over the next few years.
Roy: “Thank you. We are running short of time, Marion next”.
Q. 5. Marion Garland (Belfast): “I just wanted to say I too felt totally shocked by those statements from Fr Reid and I just couldn’t believe I was hearing right. I understand that. I just feel it would be an awful shame to let that put you off meeting with people of kindred spirits and people from the nationalist community. I would also say I have the concept that problems are to do with the church and I have to say that ministers and all the rest have a difficult job and they are human like the rest of us and so some do the job better than others. But I would like to mention the story of the Good Samaritan. I have been surprised many times in my life who the Good Samaritan has been to me and I think that is just great to feel that God can surprise us and I think too to just to try and keep our minds open. You might be surprised you know.
Victims Commissioner: “But the other thing, what I am really getting at is you know the way there has been a new Victims Commissioner appointed. I am just wondering would you find that of any help? What sort of help would she be?”
Telling the stories:” Also, just before I sit down, I just feel you must tell your stories, I think that’s part of your healing. You’re never going to be rid of these demons, let’s face it, but it has got to help others and it has got to be helpful to meet other groups and please, please do that. Thank you. …”
Hazlett: “The name of the new Victims Commissioner who was appointed I think at the end of September is Mrs Bertha MacDougal. We don’t know who she is. Now within the victims sector, I phoned all the groups. Nobody knows her…. A Victims commissioner I think is a good idea because we have needed somebody who would champion our cause and bring our concerns at the highest level of government in the hope that somebody up there will listen. I think the disappointing thing about it – and there has been a bit of controversy over this – has been the fact that that appointment has been done as – to quote from Mark Durkan – ‘a secret deal or a side deal, or a sub deal.’ There was no openness about it, there was no transparency about it, there was no consultation about it. It was the Northern Ireland Office, as it has been doing for the last six or seven years, telling the victims ‘we know best, we’re government and we will tell you who you are going to have and what they are going to do’.
“Now that’s the negative side of it. But we are prepared. I’m on public record through the BBC. We welcome the appointment of the commissioner. We are prepared to give her a fair wind. We want to see what she knows about the sectors. We don’t know anything except that she is a police widow. I think that is one thing that was said. She’s involved with a couple of groups we’ve never heard of, never saw them in any government literature….. But even with that we are still prepared to give her a fair wind. She is coming to meet with us in December. She asked to come to meet with us. The letter of invitation that I have for her, was written and signed by me, the envelope was addressed and stamped asking for the lady. It was sitting on the desk. Then her secretary rang and asked could she come to see us, so we thought now that’s good, that’s good. That was very, very interesting. We will have to see.
Definition of victim: “One of the down things of it was, in her first BBC interview she was asked what she understood a victim to be and she said that there are documents published by the government available to us and that is what she will be working to. Now that has been massively disappointing, because the definition of Bloomfield’s ‘victim’ is a catch-all definition. That means everything, that means nothing and the OFMDFM , that is the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, their attempt at a definition is also a catch-all… And within our sector, that is the pro-British victim sector, we will not and do not accept that IRA men are victims the same way as we are. We will never accept that.”
Roy: “Time has gone very quickly, and what I am going to do is take four more questions one at a time. ….”
Q.6. Fr Pat McManus (Columban missionary). Re healing: “I belong to this establishment, the Columban Fathers. I have been a priest for 40 years and one of the most saddest things in my ministry was listening to the individual person in the privacy of a room talking about their wounds and their hurt and I in response trying to say something to make them feel better. And according to their testimony over the years, I have succeeded in doing that if only by listening sympathetically. I would feel terribly sorry for the people wounded in Northern Ireland as you have been if you look to Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern or any organisation to heal your wounds, because there is a healing that you need and you will only get it from God and from Christ and from prayer and God does not hand over to Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern or any organisation what he himself can do. So I would ask you to consider that we are all individuals and when it comes to pain and wounds, we need the healing that comes through prayer and Christ. Look there for that healing and don’t look for the healing that only God can give, from Bertie Ahern or Tony Blair. … My grandfather came from Northern Ireland and I have a deep interest there. I feel sad and frustrated when I hear everyone from every side exposing their wounds and looking for justification … because I can see there is no solution to that. Christ’s solution was forgiveness. We don’t get it by sorting out this is for you and that is for you. We have to rise above it by forgiveness and we need God for that. Now as regards the things which Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair can do, we must demand those and get them but don’t dispense with what Jesus Christ has told us we need from Him.”
Roy: “Thank you.”
Pat: “Can I say one further thing? I deeply regret the use of the word ‘nazi’ by Mary McAleese and Fr. Reid. If they were only aware of the numbers of people from Northern Ireland who gave their lives fighting nazism, and the sacrifice their families back home made, they would be more sensitive. But do remember the number of people from down South who fought nazism. … It was an unfortunate use of the word. Reverend Clarke is right, you can make too much of it. Fr Reid never said unionists were nazis. He said if you do such a thing, you are putting yourself in the same category but he didn’t believe that himself and he didn’t actually say that or believe that you are nazis. Mary McAleese has hurt you but she has also hurt other people. She gave a talk on child abuse by Roman Catholic priests – which was her right – but she went on in her talk to coin a new phrase and she said these priests are ‘social terrorists’. Coining that, it hurt us all. When we think of the pain and sacrifice, well I have endured in becoming a priest and in my ministry, I found that very hurtful and inexcusable from a person in her position and her education. … ”
Q. 7. “I’ll put it to you very clearly what I want to say. I sympathise with you, with the terrible atrocities that have affected your families. I honestly do. What I want to say is this: that partition – and going back to 1916, 1916 to me was a failure in many, many respects. It was a complete disaster for the whole island of Ireland and I can honestly say that. Looking over my history over the last years and years I have taken an interest. Now, the partitioning of this island and it was done really and truly we would say along sectarian grounds. Splitting Ulster … you’ll have the Catholics there and the Protestants there. To me that was horrendous, partitioning this island. Growing up in Ireland from 1955 onwards ….. the fact is Protestants left this State and went North. And partition disenfranchised thousands and thousands of Catholics the other side. We really had two states operating in a horrible fashion. To me that is the greatest tragedy for my generation.
“I feel the unionists in Northern Ireland are every bit as much Irish citizens as I am. And I would like them to feel like that. I cannot understand why they don’t feel as close to my side of the argument as they would to Britain or to Scotland or wherever. So why don’t they feel this closeness to us? I have always felt I was inferior in some ways ….even today when I hear unionist politicians speak they forget about us people down here. We do feel very much part of their pain. Sorry about this, I’m going on about this but I wish you would make the Good Friday Agreement work. I pray you do. I honestly do. That thing about the foreign minister and the border, distrust. You distrust the English Governments. I mean they have sold you out left, right and centre over the years. The IRA have done some terrible things and they cannot be justified. Of course they can’t. …”
Q. 8. Sean Collins (Drogheda): “Firstly may I say I admire you all for having the courage to come down, to feel comfortable enough about coming down here, telling your story. My experience in Northern Ireland is more centred around Belfast and the people I meet up there, particularly in the unionist community, who are living under the same threat. They are living under it from unionists. They are not living under it from the IRA. I sat at a table three weeks ago with three gentlemen having dinner and none of them were paramilitaries but I discovered the only person sitting at the table that wasn’t carrying a gun was me. They all had protective firearms because of their past, of the work they had done, and until we get all the guns out of Northern Ireland, as far as I’m concerned, for whatever reason people are carrying them for, we are not going to have any peace at all.
Dialogue with Catholics: “But what I would appeal to you is, I would appeal to you – to go back to Julitta’s question in relation to addressing Catholics in your own area, if you can do that at all, I really feel that is what you have to do. It is when you get talking to the ordinary people, you find the real fear that is out there. I often tell a story about when I was working with ….some people from both sides of the divide about three years ago…. I said to them ‘you’ve lived through the Troubles. Why should I try to tell you what troubles are all about? You should be able to tell me far more than I’ll ever know or experience’. But at the end of that day, which proved a productive day, some women from Ballymurphy in Belfast said: ‘if you are up in Belfast, would you drop up and have a cup of tea? Do you ever come up there and see us?’ And I said ‘I do and I’ll do that’. And then two women from the Village area of Donegal Road said to me, ‘we’d love to meet you in Belfast some day for a cup of coffee’. And I said ‘Yeah, that’d be great, wouldn’t it?’. Now I couldn’t possibly come to the house – they weren’t afraid of me going to the house because the IRA would see me. They were afraid that the loyalists would see me and they are people from your community who are living in fear, the same threats that you are living with, and I always feel until such time as you go out and talk to people…..
Politics: “Forget about the politicians. I heard someone say ‘Bertie Ahern is not going into government with Sinn Féin’. Someone over here said that is because Mary Harney would run him. Mary Harney’s party was set up 20 years ago to demolish Bertie Ahern’s party and they have been in government with them for the last 11 or so years! So Bertie Ahern will be in government with Sinn Fein in two or three years time. Mark my words, that is the way it goes. That is the way to play politics down here and it is the way politics is played all over the world and ordinary people in the street that just don’t even count. But … I am not asking a question. I am just making an appeal to you, if you can at all, talk to those people.”
Q. 9. John Marren (Scurlogstown): “The lady behind just said what I was going to say. I thought there was a wee bit too much negativity coming. I know that area that you are from, Hazlett. I know that there are elderly active groups working between Castlederg and Ballybofeigh. That is across the border, across the divide, and I feel that you talking tonight, you were sort of isolating yourselves and maybe that is why you are not getting the money and I feel you just should be open a bit more and a wee bit less negative about it. That would be better. And … about Fr Reid. You can harp on a wee bit too much about individual things like that. He was actually pushed very strong that night when I saw the whole thing on the television. Now what he said was totally wrong. But you must remember what Fr. Reid has done. He has played a big part in silencing the guns and all the people you hear of everyday on the radio, being shot by the IRA or the UDA or any of these. He took a big part in silencing that and he has done a lot for this island and for the peace I think. And I think it is a better place in the North at the moment for bringing up kids, than it was ten or fifteen years ago, thanks to Fr. Reid.”
Hazlett: “The man down here who raised the whole issue about partition. I tend to agree with you. I don’t want to fight with you. I want to agree with you. What I cannot understand is why did the people in the South of Ireland at that time want to break off from the rest of the British Isles? Northern Ireland wanted to stay part of the United Kingdom. People in the Republic wanted to move away from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Billy: “My grandparents were from Donegal. And during 1916 they were taken round the house by the IRA at the time and there were attempts to ethnically cleanse them from the Donegal border but they stayed. But there is a funny thing too at the end of the day. They used to come at night with hoods with them and walk them round the house and threaten them with guns and all. But they always recognised the voice, it was the butcher that come to them the next day to sell them their meat! And my grandfather told that story several times. He … used to come in the next day to sell them beef. But they stayed in the Republic … they lived there till they were over eighty and wouldn’t move out. They lived a good life there. Only my mother moved north…. It might seem…. that we are always against the Roman Catholics. Hazlett said earlier in the night that we have a good lot of Roman Catholics in our group. I told you at the start I have very little religion and I belong to the group.”
Q. 10. “When you look at the history of Ireland, Presbyterians have always been the radicals that were going to lead from the front. …”
Billy: “We only have to go down to the Boyne, haven’t we, to see that”.
Questioner: “I’m sorry about the sectarianism and the people that brought this about. It breaks my heart.”
Roy Garland: “…. It just remains for me to thank everyone who is here and particularly to
thank all of our guests here – Billy and Raymond and Hazlett and Gamble – for coming here
and sharing so much with us. I think we’d like to show our appreciation.”
APPENDIX: West Tyrone Voice (WTV) – information
Extracts from the group’s information leaflet:
“West Tyrone Voice (WTV) was established in 1999 to meet the profound needs of the victims of terrorist violence in the West Tyrone region of Northern Ireland. These largely ‘forgotten’ people had no one to help them, voice their concerns, or support them in their darkest hours. The region where these victims live is bounded on the western side by the border with the Irish Republic, from where many of the terrorist attacks were launched and to where the terrorists returned after their task was completed. The region is mainly rural and agricultural, and covers an area of approximately 1800 square miles. In this area, people still live in fear. The group was formed after the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was signed, and found its motivation in the outworking of the terms of that agreement.
Membership: “The main purpose of this grassroots group is to deal with the genuine concerns that many victims have, and to voice those concerns at the highest levels in society. WTV now has 530 members, with an additional 180 non-members with whom we work; this bulks up to some 2150 people with whom we have meaningful contact. Numerically, Co. Tyrone is the third worst affected area of N. Ireland – Belfast is the worst, and South Armagh is next. Per head of population, West Tyrone lost 26 people out of every 10000, South Armagh lost 37, and Belfast lost 48. WTV is non-party political, nor is it linked to any religious grouping. Members are drawn from both sides of the community. The group comprises families of security force personnel, where the breadwinners are no longer with them because they were murdered by terrorists, or are no longer capable of supporting the family because of injury sustained either on or off duty. This grouping would account for about 70% of our membership. On top of this are the many families who, as civilians, were caught up in terrorist attacks as a means of ethnic cleansing, the most notable of which was the bombing in Omagh town centre in August 1998, where 29 people lost their lives, and 270 sustained varying degrees of injury. Of the more severely injured, many of them will not be able to work again. In our area alone, terrorists murdered 128 people. Add to this a further 100 who were from the area but were murdered elsewhere in N. Ireland. The number of people injured physically amounts to 384, while those injured psychologically, emotionally and mentally would come to some 13000, based on the figures used by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in his victims’ report. These atrocities have created more than 100 widows, 300 orphans, 236 parents who have had a child murdered, and many extended families who have been affected by the campaign of terror in our area. As our work continues, we are becoming aware of more and more people who have been diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a direct result of terrorist violence against them and/or their colleagues and friends. “
Meath Peace Group report, February 2006 Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video). Transcribed by Judith Hamill. Edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank the speakers and guest chair for coming to address this public talk and for giving so generously of their time. A special thanks to all who came to the talk (some from long distances), those who took part in the discussion afterwards and all those who have given their continued support, encouragement and participation through the years. Thanks also to those who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talk, to the Columban Fathers at Dalgan Park for facilitating the majority of our public talks and to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for financial assistance towards the running costs of the talks and school programmes, and to the staff and students of secondary schools who have taken part in our peace studies programmes
The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in 1993 with the aims of promoting peace and the fostering of understanding and mutual respect through dialogue.