Live at The Lyric: ‘The Big Sorry Debate’ – featuring Jackie McDonald, Declan Kearney & Cast

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(L-R) Jackie McDonald, Declan Kearney, Brian Rowan (host), Eamonn Mallie, Professor Kieran McEvoy


On March 5th Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin National Chairperson wrote the following in An Phoblacht:

“Republicanism needs to become more intuitive about unionist apprehensions and objections, and sensitised in our response. We need to be open to using new language and consider making new compromises.

Regardless of the stance of others, we should recognise the healing influence of being able to say sorry for the human effects of all actions caused during the armed struggle. All sensible people would wish it had been otherwise, that these events had never happened, that other conditions had prevailed. The political reality is those actions cannot be undone or disowned. It would be better they had never happened.”

The seniority of the author of the article and the weight of his message were not lost on seasoned observers of Republicanism including security writer Brian Rowan whose response on triggered a rash of commentary from a diverse range of thinkers and commentators including: The Rev Harold Good, Professor Kieran McEvoy, Dawn Purvis, Lord John Alderdice, Jackie McDonald, John Howcroft, Alex.Kane, and Alistair Little to name but a few.

Against this backdrop undertook to draw together a spectrum of voices including Declan Kearney himself, the UDA’s Jackie McDonald, Queen’s University Professor Kieran McEvoy, former Ulster Unionist Director of Communications and political commentator Alex.Kane and Eamonn Mallie with Brian Rowan moderating proceedings.

The new Lyric Theatre Belfast hanging over the River Lagan was the chosen venue for what turned out to be an intriguing and robust exchange of opinions with the evident strains surfacing almost immediately.

The purpose of this exercise was to seek elucidation on what Declan Kearney meant by an “authentic reconciliation process”.

Listen to the show below or download the MP3:


Live at The Lyric: 'The Big Sorry Debate'



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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Barbarawalshe on Discussion with Alistair Little, Gerard Foster, Gerry Mc Conville and Jackie Mc Donald who reflect on the challenges of reconciliation and apologies and the importance of trust in building relationships and the need to ‘watch language’ Picking up the Pieces, new series on RTE Radio 1 on peacebuilding after war!

  2. This was a first attempt to open out the conversation after the Declan Kearney article in An Phoblacht, the blog I wrote on this website and the responses to it. And as a first conversation, it was always going to ask questions rather than provide answers. Alex Kane and Jackie McDonald would much prefer if republicans would just settle into a Northern Ireland, but I think they know that is not going to happen. Alex still has questions about what exactly Declan means by authentic reconciliation and has invited him to write a follow-up article as another contribution to the debate. Maybe the Sinn Fein national chairperson would think out a little more on this in the space provided on this website. The possibility of republicans saying sorry for all the human hurt caused by the IRA armed campaign has become a significant part of the discussion, and Kieran McEvoy is right when he advises detailed discussion about words, timing and likely responses before anything is said publicly. The use of the right words could set a standard for others – and not just loyalists. I would also like Jackie McDonald to think out a little bit more in the space provided here – on the response he gave to an observation from Kieran McEvoy. He wanted to know why political unionists and loyalists fear an exploration of the past. In response McDonald spoke of “skeletons in the cupboard” and a concern that the IRA could come out of this “smelling like roses”. What does he mean? Our host Eamonn Mallie  sought clarification in a number of his questions about who precisely the An Phoblacht article speaks for – a personal view from Declan Kearney or the wider republican leadership. I think both he and I know the answer to that question – that at Declan’s level of that leadership there is no such thing as a solo run. So, the discussion has begun and is developing. It is about moving beyond ceasefires, the formal ending of the armed campaign and the political agreement – and opening up another big discussion. And in that big discussion we are already hearing a big question. How do you say sorry for the hurt caused, but continue to argue that the war was justified?     

    • Ray – have you read Alistair Little’s contribution to this discussion elsewhere on the website? It was posted a few hours before the recorded discussion and a number of the points he raised became a significant part of the debate, including the specific question he asks: “Can a person say they are sorry for killing your father, brother, son, mother, daughter or for whatever they may have done that involved death, injury and suffering, and at the same time say, ‘but I believe it was the right thing to do’?”  

  3. Think this whole truth recovery debate needs a reality check. I have been involved in negotiations of some kind since I was imprisoned in Long Kesh at the tender age of 18 in 1972.Negotiations on prison conditions and prisoners rights with Prison Governors and NIO Officials. Upon my release I rose to the Senior Convenor of the T&GWU in the state owned Harland & Wolff where I was involved in negotiations with management and Government Minsters regarding workers wages and conditions. Also as Chairman of the PUP was involved in the protracted negotiations which created the Belfast Agreement. What has that to do with truth recovery you may ask? Well there is a simple formula that runs throughout all those negotiations. 1) What is it you want? 2) What is the bottom line? 3) What can you expect to get? If people can get to that position then maybe there is a possibility that somehow we can all arrive at a recipe to address the past.
    The first casualty of any conflict is the Truth and whose Truth is it anyway. The illusion that an endless queue of people will line to to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is as likely as the return of the man who never came back.
    I understand the hurt and pain caused by the conflict. In my home on the Shankill you could draw a 3 mile radius around it where you will find 1/3 of all the people killed, maimed and injured in “the troubles” have lived. Victims of IRA violence, victims of police violence, victims of Army violence and also victims of Loyalist violence. I walk among victims of violence every day. There is no Hierarchy in pain and suffering.
    However, if people are serious about some type of reconciliation process then they need to address those questions of 1) What is it you would like to get. 2) What would be your bottom line and 3)  What is it that is possible to get. 
    Other than that I can only refer them to the CLMC document and the phrase “abject and true remorse”
    William “Plum” Smith

    • Plum – I think it’s important that it’s heard and understood that there will not be an “endless queue” of people lining up to tell the truth. And I also think it important that you mention the victims of Army and police violence. This is not just about what the ‘Provos’ and the ‘Prods’ did. Working out bottom lines and what is possible is all part of the wider discussion. You mention the “abject and true remorse” offered in the CLMC statement in 1994, but only to “innocent” victims. This new discussion and challenge is to take the healing process into a much wider frame.

  4. I took the opportunity to listen to the Lyric debate again, I felt the contributors were engaged in a considered and genuine debate, there appeared to me as listener to be a willingness to test and develop some of the points made in Declan Kearneys opinion piece. I said in a previous post that genuine debate normally means compromise, I think we are probably quite away off that compromise but at this stage the willingness to listen to the other persons argument is a first important step. For example Declan Kearny said that since he read the concluding lines of Alex Kane’s first blog that ‘he had put himself in Alex’s shoes’.  Reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, the opening up of the debate on the opinion piece creates the possibility of progress if genuine dialogue happens.

  5. Barbarawalshe on

    Reconciliation is not ‘a one off’ it is a process which may or may not happen but a change in relationships can and does happen. An apology from all sides sincerely meant will give leadership to all the cross community work that is happening now, much of it in isolation or recognition by the political system.
    An apology from all sides will lessen the confusion and the ambiguity that this generation of youngsters feel, some of whom now feel they missed out on ‘the glory of the armed struggle’ and are now being preyed upon ‘to defend their community’ hardly surprising considering that young Protestant and Catholic young people do not go to school together, live together and are getting mixed messages from the older generation. So leadership at all levels is necessary otherwise this conflict goes underground to flare up again and again

    • Hi Barbara – good to have you writing here. The reason why we need a healing process is because of some of the issues you raise – young people and their future. Those of us who lived through the past several decades of conflict are shovelling our experiences on top of another generation. “All sides” – and not just republicans and loyalists – need to get involved and be involved in this next phase of the process. There are those – particularly politicians – who talk about drawing a line. There is no such thing, and no hiding place from the past and its ugly truths. Those politicians and governments need to understand that there  are many things they need to say sorry for. 

  6. Alistair little on

    Alistair Little

    I want to view the debate that took place at the Lyric as a positive step on a journey that as Declan said “will take us who knows where”.

    My concern is that if the conversation regarding the issue of saying sorry or not, is taking over by the party politics of the conflict; the constitutional question and the usual positioning then it won’t take us very far.

    I think that there has been a huge number of questions, and frustrations, raised by the article and the Lyric debate has added to that sense of frustration. I think now it is a matter of trying to address those frustrations by attempting to put forward some response to the questions. 
    I couldn’t help but think it ironic that in the midst of a debate about the need for conversations that haven’t happened yet there was to my mind a degree of avoidance present.

    I was struck by Declan’s response to Eamonn Mallie when Eamonn said that he couldn’t help but think it was an ambush for Unionists. There will be many people who will be suspicious of Declan and the IRA’s intentions. It surely can’t be enough to say to those people it is up to you and you alone to work out why you are suspicious of republicans setting a trap or ambushing them; especially if republicans have given them good reason to be so. I would have thought that ‘new conversations’ would be different, and the sensitivity would explore together where those thoughts and feelings have their root!

    I also found it interesting when Alex, regarding the term ‘authentic reconciliation’, said, “you either want reconciliation or you don’t, you can’t make it up as you go”. I would say, on my own journey towards reconciling certain relationships and experiences much of what I felt and thought and how I made sense of it all changed moment by moment and still does.
    This is not an easily identifiable place one goes to. It is not necessarily a fixed place and there are certainly days when one questions the decisions they have made and the rightness of those decisions to reach out to the ‘enemy’ the ‘other’. There have been many risks taken in my own journey of reconciliation, along with fear, doubt, and struggling with a sense of betrayal, and I am sure that will continue to be the case. 
    There are as many reasons not to reconcile as there are to, and much of it gets ‘made up’ along the way because it is not just about one individual or community it’s about our relationship with others. I think that is a more honest place to be and what makes it real. I have a deeper sense of what I am moving away from, than as a protestant, unionist loyalist what I am moving towards, and that I guess is because Our future is dependent on each other, with all the different aspirations that involves, including the ones I am opposed to.

    I understand that when you bring together a diverse group of people then one must expect that a whole range of issues and feelings will surface that will take up most of the time and leave little time to shed some light on the issue at hand, namely what is meant by sorry? 

    I do think at this stage there needs to be some attempt to clarify some of the comments made by Declan’s article.
    It may be that Declan and other contributors will choose to do that in a different place than here but it needs to be done soon.
    I remain hopeful that the real talk about saying sorry, what that will involve and whom that willneeds to involve, will begin sooner rather than later.



  7. The
    article that sparked this debate; carefully inserted in the ‘test-tube’ of
    republican opinion that is an phoblacht, and now subject to the intensive
    laboratory testing of the wider republican movement, will [and must] face more
    rigorous examination outside the limited confines of this laboratory, and the
    results remain to be determined before it receives any certificate of approval.

    fact that Loyalism have no such mechanism to test opinion is already a deficit,
    which is extra to the previous deficits that Frankie has highlighted in terms
    of the necessary structure, support and the continuing processes of demonisation
    occurring against the Loyalist community. These are legitimate concerns.

    these points aside, It is highly improbable that this idea was put fwd for
    tests without first having sought a representative sample from amongst senior republican
    party colleagues, yet we are not imbued with the results of this initial
    testing phase, that would move it from simply being presented as an untried and
    hypothetical based formula. This will lead many to think that already the truth
    is being watered down or hidden.

    and I have to concur with Alistair here, there is a real danger of lumping in the
    party-politik, that will in itself will detract from and blur any debate, that
    could effectively move it from being perceived and understood as a genuine reconciliatory
    effort aimed at dealing with our past.

    is a big ask of the republican movement, and indeed other combatant groupings,
    to ‘say sorry’ for the results of their actions, and it remains to be seen if
    this can be done without hints of justification creeping into the debate that
    support whatever ‘cause’ is proffered. And it remains to be seen what a sorry
    will really mean on the basis of the burden of suffering that people carry.

    should be in a position to speak about all the issues many commentators have
    raised, yet we may need to look at ensuring the conditions are right for these
    debates to begin in earnest. A lot of issues would have to be re-visited that
    shape our understandings and in an effort to create a framework from where
    analysis and solution can emerge.


    • Thank you for your post, which is a serious and thinking response to the debate that is developing. You will notice that all those who post on this site use their names, and we would hope you would do likewise. Please direct message Eamonn Mallie twitter.

  8. Frankie_Gallagher on

    I can only commend Eamonn for his attempt at filling a void that is quite frankly the responsibility of two Sovereign Governments (British & Irish) and not a Journalist, no matter how proficient that journalist is. Of course the void is the Northern Ireland ‘Peace Process.’ Is it alive or dead? for me that is the question. Having said that the question raised, ‘should the IRA say sorry’ is only one of many questions that needs answered and not only for the IRA. 

    The whole concept which I think is being put forward by Eamonn, how do we deal with the past, is the right one and is being done in an imaginative way and I hope it builds a momentum that will go to the heart of those responsible for the ‘Peace process’ as a stark reminder of their responsibilities but it also illuminates a major deficit and makes me ask the question (tongue in cheek) have they gone away you know? (the two Governments)
    Point made I’ll try and answer the question.
    For me as a Loyalist I have struggled to find new and imaginative ways through non violent means to keep the Loyalist constituency engaged in this process but to my frustration ‘Loyalism’ has not been given a fair wind to partake of this process. A stark reminder of this was when Tony Blair stated that he would deal with the Republican’s and Hugh Orde said he would deal with the Loyalists, the inference being one is political and the other criminal, how absurd! Is every person in that community a criminal? definitely not. Then we had the disgraceful choreographed sequence of events by Margret Ritchie in her clamber for Eddie McGrady’s Westminster seat in South Down when she withdrew the funding for the CTI project, alleging that the money was going to the UDA, which it wasn’t and which was proven in a court of law. It is this idea that if we sort out the IRA Loyalism will follow, wrong! 
    We are now seeing the lack of social investment in Loyalist combatants and communities twenty years ago being played out on our streets today. I must say though that it still doesn’t give justification for violence or the threat of violence. The war is over, the Union is safe and the way forward is to make the new democratic structure at Stormont better than what they are at present. That is how you defend the Union.
    But this brings me to the question, with the backdrop of whats happening in Loyalist areas and the continued ‘Super-grass trials’ and the one sided process of the HET. Saying sorry will comes across to Loyalists as another con to hammer them. How can Loyalist ex-combatants say sorry? or even debate the issue of saying sorry, by the way a conversation that I totally agree with and I’m sure many Loyalist ex-combatants are the same, when the likelihood is that it will just be another stick to beat them with and continue the destructive cycle of demonisation of a whole community? It is a non starter, not because Loyalists don’t want to but because they are unable to. They do not have the ware for all to open the Pandora’s box. To attempt it without the necessary support structures would be like committing suicide. No matter how ill you think of Loyalists, they know that to move onto this ground without a fully supported process of ‘dealing with the past’ will only lump more misery onto an already beleaguered community. They won’t do it.
    I believe that Declan’s attempt at creating this debate within his own constituency is an honourable one but will be a one sided affair with limited results if things stay the same and that is sad because it needs debated if we are to reach that new place we are ALL striving for. Einstein said that “insanity – is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.” 
    We need to do things differently if things are going to change. If properly supported Loyalists I believe will not be found wanting.
    ‘Sorry seems to be the sadest word.’

    • Morning Frankie – The two governments are not interested in this because it could end up at their door or at the door of the security forces/intelligence services. And, I agree, HET investigations and supergrass trials are not the way to deal with the past. We need something that is more thinking.The Declan Kearney article is not just about opening up a conversation within the republican community. It has a wider purpose – to start us all thinking and talking about a healing process. Loyalists should be part of this, and should not be searching for reasons/excuses to sit outside the conversation. 
      Loyalism often talks about how it is “demonised” – and yet much of its image has been sculpted by its own hand; by Adair, Gray, White, Shoukri and many others. 
      Feuding, drugs, criminality are some of the ingredients in a recipe for self-destruction.
      And, so, loyalism needs to stop feeling sorry for itself and begin to think about why it needs to say sorry, and not just to the “enemy” community.
      We hear a lot about programmes for conflict transformation, and yet last weekend the people of Sydenham in east Belfast heard explosions.
      The NIO, the police and the so-called “critical friends” have been silent. Why?
      And what if those devices had been thrown in a nationalist/republican community with the slightest hint of IRA involvement?
      You know, and I know, the reaction would have been completely different. Loud and not silent.
      In this developing debate on healing, the door is open.
      Loyalists should step inside.
      I know there are many people in that community who are serious about doing the right things for their community and the peace process. It’s time to get on with it.


  9. johnhowcroft on

    Let’s, get real, who doesn’t regret the hurt that
    has been caused. The conflict has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on
    individuals, families and communities. None of us would have wanted the price
    we have all paid and indeed continue to pay. We have had too many visits to
    gravesides, and prisons; seen too many tears, witnessed so many families
    destroyed and fall apart, and many still live with the anger, the pain, the
    hate, the sorrow. That’s the reality of all our actions and the awful place
    where society found itself in.


  10. johnhowcroft on

    Whilst it is an extremely sensitive and complex issue,
    we have to explore this within a horizontal framework that looks at us as a
    society. To use an analogy, if we think of conflict as a orchestra, we have the
    conductors at the front directing that performance, (not unlike the actors on
    the political landscape), we have the various sections of that orchestra such
    as woodwind and percussion, (that mirror the range of combatant forces engaged
    directly in that performance) and we have the audience (or wider society, that
    clap at certain parts of that performance, and retain their seats for the
    duration) Within this framework, we must begin to look at the correlating
    issues of support, advocacy & manipulation as contributory factors to that
    performance and we must look beyond the direct performance and into the
    indirect aspects that sustained that performance, be it the role of
    politicians, media, churches and others. It involves people looking
    reflectively into their role and recognising their specific influence or
    contribution. A societal problem requires a societal response.

  11. johnhowcroft on

    After a debate occurring last night with 15 senior representatives from across the North Belfast area:

    Firstly, it is clear that people are interested in moving on, but are concerned about the mechanism to ensure that this can be done with sensitivity and adequate support.
    Secondly, Saying ‘sorry’ or expressing regret is does not appear to be the problem, it is what comes after that process.
    For Example, In a demographic context, North Belfast is essentially 3 square miles that many commentators have described as the ‘cockpit of the conflict’, that despite only representing 5% of Northern Ireland’s population, experienced approx 25% of conflict related deaths and injury. It is also a patchwork quilt of small isolated communities living cheek by jowl, literally only a stone throw away. The supergrass system currently operating, as a methodology for dealing with the past, has the potential in the context i have highlighted to create major difficulties that as a community or society  we may not be able to manage.
    Its ok when people don’t know, or maybe only suspect who killed their loved ones, but when this pandoras box is opened and people do know, the demographics will invariabely mean that they may only live up to a street or two streets away from the ‘perpetrator’, they may even see them regularely crossing a particular road, attending a certain place etc. This is already happening, yet in an isolated way at present, but when, or if, we open this door, this will be happening with such frequency, that retribution may be a product of any process, and that crosses inter as well as intra community due to numerous feuds etc with Loyalist on Loyalist actions. 
    How do we ensure that in trying to do the right thing..we do not open pandoras box? 

  12. wilhelmverwoerd on

    I have been following the “big sorry debate” with great interest.  As a South African from an Afrikaner background, as a former supporter of Apartheid and ongoing beneficiary of that system (with one if its main architects as a grandfather), I am still grappling with what it means to really say AND do sorry in post-apartheid South Africa. With this personal background I am very cautious about adding a comment. Given work experience within the South African Truth and
    Reconciliation Commission and given the last 10 years on this troubled island as a
    facilitator of journeys of understanding and humanisation between former
    combatants, survivors and members of wider society, I have some sense of the emotional, moral, political (and legal) “minefield” I am entering.

    Still, I am encouraged by the debate thus far and hope that a hesitant “outsider” perspective would be useful.

    Listening to the discussion, reading the various comments and reflecting on similar debates in South Africa, a few themes stood out for me thus far.  Firstly, I’v been struck again by how tricky the language of “saying sorry” is, by how many pitfalls surround the question of apologizing or not, individually and collectively, in the aftermath of political violence.

    I find myself wondering again if it would be helpful to make a relatively clear distinction between sorry-as-apology and sorry-as-acknowledgement.  For me sorry-as-apology involves a recognition of the human hurt caused, as well as a deep acceptance of wrongdoing; it deals with painful consequences as well as the motivation/beliefs that inspired those hurtful actions.  When I said sorry to former pres. Mandela and to many other black South Africans since the early 1990s, this was an expression of a deep sense (beyond intelectual understanding) of the hurt caused by the apartheid system, by my church, my tribe, my family and myself… and a clear acceptance that my belief in and support for “separate development” was no longer morally (or theologically) justifiable.  (It took me about 5 years of intense and often confusing inner struggle, after the initial exposure to the true realities of human suffering under apartheid, to reach this point of sincere apology.)

    Sorry-as-acknowledgement emphasizes the human cost, the hurtful consequences of past actions, without necessarily accepting that the underlying motive, cause, belief was wrong.  In my case this kind of acknowledgement was an important step on the journey towards sorry-as-apology.  If I was expected to say sorry (in the sense of apologizing) at the early stages of exposure to the human hurt caused by apartheid I would not have been able to do so sincerely – the ties to family, church were still too strong, the fear of betrayal of my brothers and friends fighting in the South African army was too intense, the emotional and identity investments in how I saw history were too deeply rooted.  If I was pushed into the apology corner too soon, I am not sure I would have been able to continue the journey which eventually led me to join the ANC and work within the TRC as tangible expressions of my sense of sorrow. 

    Of course, this would have been an even trickier journey if I joined the ANC sooner than the early 90s and was actually involved in actions that hurt other (white) people. Thankfully I wasn’t, but if I was, I am not sure whether sorry-as-acknowledgement in that scenario would have lead to sorry-as-apology.  I would like to think that I would still have been able to really listen to the hurt caused by my ANC actions and commit to do something meaningful about it…but I would have resisted the idea that an apology for specific actions implied also an acknowledgement that the overall struggle against an evil system was wrong?   

    Over the last 10 years I have witnessed a similar dynamic in interactions between some former combatants and victims/survivors.  I have seen how the expectation of apology can prevent real engagement; I have seen how the exposure to human hurt can encourage the helpful and even healing acknowledgement of that hurt…especially if that acknowledgement is accompanied by tangible, practical expressions of sincerity.

    The second theme will be shorter.  I am encouraged by people taking about the need for new language, new thinking, new conversations.However, drawing on my personal and work experience I am  not sure that this need can be met by (only) thinking and talking about it. 

    The shifts in my thinking were, initially at least, encouraged by interpersonal human encounter – by the humbling, vulnerable, uncomfortable, repeated exposure to the life stories of individual black South Africans. In the Journey through Conflict work that I do with Alistair Little we ask groups of 10-15 participants to commit to a journey involving multiple residentials, and we try to sequence this journey by having the experience of sharing Life Histories precede the Deep Dialogue stage of the journey, including dialogues around questions of forgiveness and apology. 

    Perhaps those who are serious about a deepening of the “big sorry debate” need to also take the risk of repeated human encounter, of difficult, deep listening and sharing of individual human hurt, without any “buts”… Taking this kind of risk will at least lend more credibility to any verbal expression of sorry-as-acknowledgement…and for some might also include sorry-as-apology.  Both types of sorry, if sincere, are huge progress on the journey beyond indifference, denial, justification and glorification.

    Wilhelm Verwoerd

  13. Gerard Foster on

    I took part in the RTE interview and tried, from a personal point of view, to deal with my past, present and the future. I tried to go beyond the surface, to show that the work I do with victims of the conflict is difficult, not only for the victims, but also myself.
    I fear that if we only do this at a “political level” it will come to very little in the end.
    I will post later in more detail in relation to the article written by D.K

  14. Gerard Foster on

    As a Republican and former INLA prisoner I was very interested reading Declan’s article and listening to the debate. I took my time in answering as I was struck by what he meant by “Authentic Reconciliation” and we need to begin the debate now.
    Why start the debate “within Republicanism” from a public platform? Did he not expect the media or Unionists to pick up on it?  Does he want Republicans now to go of in small groups and talk to each other about saying “sorry” for the hurt and pain we have caused, but not the struggle? What if the answer is, no we have very little, or nothing to say sorry for? Will the leadership of PSF accept that answer? 
    Also I have heard leading members of PSF saying in media outlets that the condictions for armed struggle are over and it should be only used as a last resort. I understand that to mean that last resort condictions could come about again and that PSF would not be against armed struggle at that stage. So how can PSF be “authentic” in saying sorry, if they are willing to do it all again?
    If PSF have not been “authentic” in their dealings with the Unionist/Loyalist community up to now, then what is it they have been doing?
    Within Republicanism there are issues that PSF are not, and have not, dealing with in an “authentic” manner. INLA prisoners were treated badly at times by the PRM, this came from the leadership level, as I know most of the PIRA prisoners were sound towards us, but still at every turn that leadership tried to undermind us, not see us a Republicans and in the end even lifted INLA prisoners of the Republican wings. The PIRA prisoners group do not want to even talk about this issue with us, never mind admitt that it happened. So what does Declan mean by “authenic”? 
    Even today the INLA ex-prisoners group “Teach Na Failte” are working in Ireland and with other conflict/post conflict areas and issues around conflict. At home the INLA ex-prisoners have been working with victim groups and have been for years. This is done at an authenic level with all the difficulties that involves. But this sort work is still being underminded by the PRM. They have phoned funders, and even a charity, to complain about the fact that they are working with us. Hardly inclusive.
    I personally have worked with many different people, I have come face to face with victims of INLA violence and saw their hurt and pain. I have worked with people who, if their families knew they were in the room with me, would cause massive problems for that person. I also have problems within my family and community because of this work. This has been going on for years, so are PSF playing catch up? they certainly are not leading the way on this issue. Or maybe they think it is not “authentic”?
    The problem I see with all of this is if it is done only at a political level it will only add to the hurt and pain.It could allow people to hid behind a general “sorry” from the organisation. Others might say you are not saying sorry for me, so it opens up things that might not be abled to be dealt with from a victims stand point. A general sorry, I believe, serves nobody except probably politicans.
    Combatants and victims could be let down by this “sorry” at that level. The work being done, and that has been done to date, is authenic and very difficult for all involved, I know because I have seen it close up. PSF do not need to start the debate, they need to catch up on it before it leaves them behind, that is possibly what Declan really fears and why he used a public platform to issue his statement.

    • Gerry – There’s an issue raised in your post that I think needs to be addressed. 

      You write:
      “I have heard leading members of PSF saying in media outlets that the conditions for armed struggle are over and it should only be used as a last resort. I understand that to mean that last resort conditions could come about again and that PSF would not be against armed struggle at that stage.”I have heard no one else offer your analysis. In the context of what the IRA calls its war, armed struggle was described as a measure of last resort. That describes a past and not a present context. There is no suggestion coming from anywhere or anyone that the IRA would consider a return to armed actions.You write that you listened to the debate. Then you will have heard Declan Kearney say the following.”The conditions for conflict are finished – and the armed struggle has ended – and the war is over.”I don’t need a dictionary to decode those words, and nor will anyone else. The message is easily understood.Barney

  15. Just a post for information. Thursday March 15th 22.30 on UTV Live Tonight, I’ll have a report from inside the republican community on Declan Kearney’s article. He is interviewed as is Eibhlin Glenholmes, Seanna Walsh, Jim McVeigh and Michael Culbert. Alistair Little and Harold Good who’ve been posting on this story are interviewed in studio. 

  16. Frankie_Gallagher on

    I have listened to this conversation and aired caution because of the complexity of the subject and the sensitivities that surrounds it, yet I feel compelled to continue the dialogue and discourse. There is even some personal guilt, that I may be viewed to come across as closing the conversation down because of being over cautious and at the same time I truly believe that the conversation must continue to open up. 

    Saying sorry or the idea of it goes right to the heart, even to the soul. It has evoked memories in me that have aroused deep emotions. I was about twelve years old when the ‘troubles’ started for me. It was the 27th of June 1970 on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast playing outside the Chapel waiting for the men coming out of the pubs across the road so we could cadge some money to buy chips in the Star chippy at Templemore Ave. My life would never be the same again and I didn’t even know it, how could I, I was a child. I always think about Jimmy McCurrie & Ginger Neil who where killed by the IRA that fateful evening, I then seen five of my friends and comrades killed by the British army (my army) and the RUC by the end of 1973, they were all teenagers and it never stopped there, it went on and on. I have thought of the other friends I know who lost their Father’s, Tommy Herron & Sammy Smith but who killed them? why? Ray Smallwoods and John McMichael, it goes on and on and this is only within my constituency, my community and those who I knew. 

    I never forget these people and I think constantly of their families, in many ways possibly wrecked and broke into pieces. I don’t believe that there was any special support given to these families, I don’t think that they got any great help from any direction. I believe that they had to get on with it and make do with what they had around them, I bet it wasn’t much. 

    The point I’m getting to is that these families and many others who must be in the same position developed their own natural coping mechanisms, not perfect and I’m sure to many different degree’s of success and failure. Then Sinn Fein come up with the idea of saying sorry! Who are are they to drive this debate? Yet I believe if we don’t deal with the past we will never move on, individually or collectively. 

    I hope that people who have lost loved ones enter into this debate, it needs you. I am one of the lucky ones who never experienced that personal loss, the closest it came to me was my mates who I looked up to as a boy being taken away from me. 

    This conversation evokes anger, hurt, sorrow, it also makes me think of the words sorry, forget, forgive many don’t want to hear sorry, can’t forget and may never forgive but it also makes me think why should we be responding to a Sinn Fein initiative, why are we as a community with political leadership not discussing these issues in our own right, in our own community. Why are we not gathering around those families who have had to cope with this issue on their own? 

    Why are we not asking individually and collectively “what the hell happened to us?” We as a community and individuals need collective political support because this conversation is not going to go away. 

    We can’t deal with it through the HET or Offender Assisted, ‘show trials’. We need to reassure our community that to discuss this issue is not to be anti state or playing into the hands of the Republican master plan as in the past, that it is a necessary journey to give peace of mind to those who lost the most, the people they loved and it is up to us who never lost as much to support them.

    • Frankie –  No one group or party or community owns this debate and conversation. It’s for everyone and needs everyone. And the greater the involvement, the better the chance of finding something that might begin to work. It’s not about where this conversation started, but where it could lead. On this website many loyalists – yourself, Jackie McDonald, John Howcroft, Alistair Little and the former MLA Dawn Purvis have joined in the discussion. They’ve put their names beside their words and these are important contributions. So keep thinking, keep talking, keep challenging and keep posting.


      • Frankie_Gallagher on

        I concur Barney, but where I disagree is that you state “it’s not about where the conversation starts but where it leads” That is exactly the point I am trying to make, the starting place for this conversation for many people in mine and other communities is ‘where they are at’ and where they are at needs support. Thats the place to begin for them and many more. 
        I spoke with Jackie McDonald at the Ullans Academy St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in the Park Ave Hotel this morning and we both agreed that him and I have in many ways dealt or are continuing to deal with our past in the present. We have been fortunate or lucky enough to do that. 
        Many others are not and I also acknowledge that those people are everyone in all communities and none, it belongs to everyone but we can’t parachute a process in without facing up to the responsibility of the consequences of that process on others. This will impact on people if it continue’s to open up as I suspect it will. 
        With rights come responsibility, it is mine and your right to have this conversation in a free society but its our responsibility to deal with the impact of that conversation on others. 
        So lets continue the debate but lets not let those of the hook who’s responsibility it is to provide a safety net for those who this conversation it will impact on. The place to start is where people are at and make sure where it leads to is a safe place for those it impacts on. If we do this we will do the right thing the right way, not do the right thing the wrong way.
        Let’s be guardians of each others rights and start to protect each other, then the future will be secured for us all.

  17. johnhowcroft on

    lets get real; the debate has already happened behind closed doors.
    There was a recent publication, in the International Journal of Transitional Justice, with research being conducted by the UUJ Transitional Justice Institute, professor Colm Campbell and Ita Connelly, entitled ‘the sharp end: armed oppostition movements, transitional truth processes and the rechtsstaat’. Tthis involved, exclusively, IRA affiliated ex-combatants .
    Anyway, i’ll include a few quotes from this for thought, but the whole report will need read and digested to allow for a wider lens on the thinking that has already being developed and explored.
    “the data suggests that transitionary armed opposition movements see transitional justice as a site for continuing their political projects and potentially inflicting damage to their opponents, as well as attrition, given the victim-perpetrator characther of such movements.”
    To myself, this presents the truth process clearly as a battlefield!
    Also the apology/apologia route is explored in advance of this seemingly new thinking. Indeed, according to this report “the words ‘apology’ and ‘apologia’- a defence of one’s own position…Apology may encompass elements of apologia in the self-affirmative potential it represents for the perpetrator…in saying, ‘sorry’, we contradicted principles of humanity to which we ourselves adhere, perpetrators may square the circle of simultaneous regret and defence”
    is this not what we are seeing and hearing in this debate? Is this like saying ‘sorry for your hurt, but we were right and felt justified to hurt you’? And what now is the value of that sorry?

  18. johnhowcroft on

    This debate, as all debates do, inevitably raises more questions than answers. The uneasy paradigm that the republican movement transverses between victim and perpetrator is one such question that is presented.

    Republicans describe themselves, as society also describes
    them, as ex-combatants, a label easily applied, which in turn places that
    person/movement into a neatly packaged box, which itself ignores and dehumanises
    in regards to other facets of identity and worth, such as father, son or indeed

    In this paradigm, for the republican movement a combatant
    can also be understood as a victim or survivor; of a scenario that he or she
    did not create but which was inherited from personal or community exposure to
    conflict experiences. In this way, a perpetrator, according to the republican
    movement, must be understood in relation to the environment they inherited, the
    experience they endured and the impact that they still retain, and the question
    is- does the later status as a perpetrator, negate the earlier experience of
    victimhood, because of the particular path that person or movement took in
    responding to that victimhood?  (i.e
    resorting to armed actions and making other victims)

  19. I understand where alistair and Gerard are coming from, as i have been priveleged to be part of the debates and processes that have been happening over many years that they speak of, these have occurred on a personal and human level, which not only adds to the debate and provides a crucial layer of reality, but gives a much deeper substance. These have not happened in the bright spotlight of the public domain accompanied by fanfares, and i would concur that they were authentic and reconcillitory in nature.

  20. PeterSheridan on

    I have just come away from the Ullans Academy St Patrick day celebration breakfast and whilst rightly St Patrick was centre stage I was struck about how may of the sidebar conversations were picking up on the current debate around Declan Kearneys opinion piece. Last nights UTV life programme was also part of the discussions and from the conversations I was part of I got a sense that people were engaged in the debate in a more thoughtful way that may have happened previously.  In particular, I thought Alastair Little’s comments on UTV were particularly thoughtful – his challenge that in saying sorry ‘the individual should not hide behind the collective’ is important.  Responses to his comments on this will be interesting.

  21. Gerard Foster on

    Barney, I am not looking for either PIRA or PSF to say sorry to me and I doubt they would. My comment about the last resort is because I have met a lot of people from the Unionist community over the last 8 years or so, and it they who said that that is what it means to them, that if the conditions of last resort came about again, then PSF would support armed struggle. 
    I take your remark about a dictionary on board, but it is not words, from any dictionary, that Republicans will be judged by, it will be by their actions. And judging us will be those who lost loved ones. Words play a role, authentic or not, but that is not what all that people want. There are people who believe that the ceasefires are just a tactic and a return to violence is a strong possibility, they will not just take our word for it, how do we convince these people from the Unionist community then?
    Some parts of the UTV show struck me as a Republican. Eibhlin Glenholmes said that the war was forced on us we didn’t want it, we had no choice. I totally disagree with these comments, and thus question her “authenticity”.
    We had choices, but choose armed struggle. Most of my childhood friends did not get involved in the armed struggle, also members of my family didn’t, they choose a different road, the war was not forced on to them, now who made the correct choice is another matter altogether, nobody forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do.
    Also, the PSF leadership of today can not speak for all those members of the PIRA who, for whatever reasons, no longer belong to the Provisional movement. I can only go by the area I live in which is Andersonstown/Lenadoon. Most people I know who were in the PIRA in the 70s, 80s and 90s are no longer in it or have anything to do with PSF. So those who actually fought how are they to be brought into the debate? What makes the leadership of today believe they can speak for these people, or these people even want PSF to speak for them or they will even get involved in the debate? If most former members of the PIRA have left that life behind them and got on with their lives, can PSF of today really speak for them?
    Having said all that I am glad this debate has been brought up. How it will be progress from here is yet to be seen, and if those who have suffered because of Republican actions will accept that it is authentic. But this debate has been happening between Republicans, State Forces and victim/survivor groups for years now, just because DK doesn’t seem to know about it, does not mean it has not happened nor is it a new debate for us who are doing it.  

  22. John_McDermott on

    Having read the article in An Phoblacht, and listened to the numerous debates and conversations it’s clear that the article has completed the first of its goals – debate. It’s interesting to see where the most reservation around this debate is coming from and where the spotlight of “who says sorry” is shinning. This process shouldn’t be focused on one section of the community or one group of individuals, anyone that had a part in the conflict is part of this debate. The British government were major players in this conflict and their input to these conversations is a must. They – along with the other players – need to approach this in an open ended way, with no predetermined thoughts as to what will be the outcome of these discussions.
      Republican’s have embarked on a number of courageous decisions throughout the duration of the Peace Process, and it could be argued that was it not for those steps we would not have the political stability that we live in now. Republicans have been central in ensuring both the Irish and British governments live up to their responsibilities, in addition taking measures to ensure both major traditions within the North are given equal respect. This debate is the next stage of that process, do we tackle reconciliation now, or do we wait until a point in the future and leave it up to the next generation to worry about? Tackling the issue at a later stage – in my opinion – would only create more division and confusion as a generation of people detached from armed struggle attempt to understand and analyse the complex detail of it.
    This debate isn’t about turning Republicans into Unionists, or Unionists into Republicans, it’s about having a mutual understanding and respect for each party and attempting to put yourself in each other’s shoes. To challenge yourself to internalise and rationalise the different perspectives, leaving all prejudices and pre-conceived ideas aside.
    During the debate on both Jackie McDonald and Alex Kane were tripping over each other to push the north’s inclusion within the ‘Union’ shows – in my opinion – where political Unionism and Loyalism is. And should the people of Scotland vote for independence it throws the additional question of “A union with who?” That again is a separate debate. Our next step now is for the other players in this discussion to give leadership in their perspective communities/organisations/parties and engage in further conversations around this.