It is one of those newspaper headlines that catches the eye; those words on the front page of The Sunday Business Post – IRA prepares for historic apology to all its victims.
The context in which this news report is set is the Martin McGuinness handshake with the Queen, his follow-up speech at Westminster and the republican reconciliation initiative that is being developed by Declan Kearney.
How close are we to that predicted IRA apology – and would it be delivered in the name of that organisation?
To answer those questions we need to think in a much wider frame – and retrace the republican footsteps not just of the past few months, but past few years.
It was Kearney, the Sinn Fein national chair, who introduced the word ‘sorry’ into this reconciliation discussion, not as an apology for the IRA war, but rather to acknowledge the human hurt caused by all armed actions.
His thinking was part of an article penned for An Phoblacht and published at the beginning of March, and since then, this new reconciliation discussion and debate has opened up and opened out.
Kearney will tell you that it should not be reduced to one side’s sorry or to that one word, however important and however difficult it is to say.
In its endgame statement of July 2005, the IRA leadership spoke the following words: “We reiterate our view that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate.”
On the basis of that statement, we can understand that any use of the word sorry will not be a retreat from that sentence or that belief.
Kearney is talking about sorry in a humanising context to acknowledge hurt, not to de-legitimise the IRA campaign.
This is not about sackcloth and ashes.
Both Kearney and McGuinness, in interviews on Radio Ulster and on RTE television at the weekend, stressed what should be the collective nature of saying sorry; that it is about every side, and the many sides.
“Many people need to say sorry,” Kearney said in a Sunday Sequence interview with presenter Mike Philpott – “and that includes the British Government, other parties, as well as all the combatants who were involved in the war.”
Unionists would, of course, add the Irish Government to that list.
That republicans are discussing all of these matters is not surprising and not new.
Back in March, the respected and influential Belfast republican Eibhlin Glenholmes told me she had “no qualms about apologising for any hurt”.
But she was not saying that the IRA war was wrong: “Absolutely not,” she told me.
“We didn’t go to war – war came to us.”
Within those comments, and what is being said by Kearney and McGuinness, you get a sense of what is possible, and what is not.
Others will have to speak – and not just loyalists, but those in governments/politics and security/intelligence who are trying to ignore the current conversations.
This should not be a blame debate, but rather a grown-up discussion that steps outside the simplistic narrative of goodies and baddies.
Church figures such as Harold Good and Lesley Carroll are talking to Kearney and other republicans, as are Lord Alderdice, Alan McBride, Sir George Quigley, the loyalists Jackie McDonald and John Howcroft and others.
This is where the grown-up talking is happening.
Another UDA figure, John Bunting, has indicated his willingness to join in and a few days ago acknowledged the McGuinness/Queen handshake as confirmation that the wars are over.
Political unionists and the governments need to get involved and should not be allowed to hide behind the curtain hoping to escape the stage and any blame for what happened here and elsewhere over a period of several decades.
What republicans are prepared to say will depend on what others are prepared to say, and when/if they are prepared to say it.
I have heard nothing to suggest any imminent development.
Whatever happens, there will not be a statement from the IRA leadership.
Both Kearney and McGuinness made that clear in their weekend interviews.
Referring to The Sunday Business Post report, Kearney said: “This is a story about which I know nothing…The IRA has left the stage. The IRA no longer exists. In other words, the IRA can no longer speak.”
Those who were part of that organisation can.
But reconciliation, healing hurts, answering the questions about the wars, trying to make sure these things never happen again, asks for an effort and an initiative that reaches out much wider than the republican community.
If people want to hear a republican sorry that deals with the many hurts and armed actions, that speaks to combatants as well as non-combatants, then they are going to have to think and talk about how that can be made possible.
This is not just about the IRA.
It is about all the wars – seen and unseen – all the hurts, all the actors and all the sides.
It is about big thinking and different thinking; not just about what happened, but why it happened, and it is about stepping into the shoes of others.
The longer people hide from this conversation and its many challenges, then the longer all of this will take.