Daring to speak the hardest word

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Reverend Harold Good


The following article is scheduled to appear in the ‘Comment’ section of the October edition of the Methodist News Letter:

In the early summer much media attention was drawn to statements from the leadership of Sinn Fein, within which they addressed their own people about the need for an “authentic” reconciliation with those who do not share their political views.  As well as the inevitable sceptics, there were those of us who responded with an invitation to a conversation.  A response which has since been encouraged by formal resolutions passed at both the Annual Methodist Conference and the Presbyterian General Assembly.  This conversation continues.

Within their statements,  SF have also spoken of the need for all of us to find ways of saying “sorry” to one another for the suffering of these years.  While this is but one of the complex issues to be addressed, it may well be the most difficult.  Do we apologise for actions supposedly carried out in our name to which we gave no consent ?   As “sorry” should not be separated from “truth”, will “sorry” ever be enough for those whose pain has not gone away ?  And are we prepared to be as honest about the causes of conflict as we are about the consequences ?  From personal experience, we know that some form of mutual acceptance of responsibility is fundamental to the healing of any fractured relationship. To accept one’s own responsibility is to challenge the other about theirs.

Following recent conversations with native Americans in Nebraska and South Dakota about what they call “The Great Hurt”, I am even more convinced of the impact of public apologies  and the potential for healing in the acceptance of collective responsibility by institutions as well as individuals.   Amongst seventy three ‘googled’ stories of public apology, there is the record of  very public apologies from both the  Protestant and Catholic churches of Canada for the exploitation and abuse of aboriginal children entrusted to their care.  From the Methodist Church of the USA there is abject apology for it’s silence following the 1864 “Sand Creek Massacre” of native Americans in Oklahoma, including women and children, which was led by a prominent Methodist !  More recently, in an emotionally charged gathering of the now elderly “lost generation” of children who had been exported from these islands sixty and more years ago, Kenneth Rudd, then Prime Minister of Australia, offered an unqualified apology on behalf of his nation.

Public apologies, do not come easily !  It was the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Friday when Irish Republicans apologised for the atrocities of that day.  It was thirty eight years after the event when David Cameron apologised for the “unjustifiable” actions of British troops on Bloody Sunday.  Significantly, the same word used by Declan Kearney in his reference to the Shankill Road bombing.   Even as I write, I am hearing on radio the first ever apology from the manufacturers of Thalidomide, responsible for thousands of congenital birth defects in the 1960’s.  In his public statement, the CEO of the company said,

We ask for forgiveness that for nearly fifty years we didn’t find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being.”  

Do we, or our successors, really want to leave it that long before we take the first step ?

Ultimately, this challenge is for every sector of our society, not least our political leaders.  But given our shared understanding of the relationship between “repentance”, “regret” and “restoration” do not we from within the communities of faith have a distinctive contribution to offer to this conversation ?


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  1. Harold – I think the important point you make is that sorry and truth should not be separated. There is a suspicion held by some that apology will be used as a substitute for truth.
    In other words statements saying things shouldn’t have happened without explanation of why and how they happened.
    It is why I ask elsewhere on this website do we leave the story of the Shankill bomb with Thomas Begley, the IRA man killed in the blast, or with Sean Kelly, another IRA member injured in the explosion and later jailed and freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
    Are they for ever the ‘bogeymen’ of that day?
    Or as part of some truth or information process do we ask the IRA or republican leadership to explain the thinking of that day and attack and to accept the inevitability that civilians were always going to be killed during that ‘operation’.
    And I don’t mean just the IRA, but ask the same questions and expect the same detail from many other sides on what happened on many other days.
    Your point: “To accept one’s own responsibility is to challenge the other about theirs” translates in my reading into someone has to take the first step.
    First we need the process into which someone or some side can step, and that should be the focus, designing the structure and finding the people who can do that.

    • Barney and Harold,

      I have in other threads to the site discussed ‘truth’ and ‘sorry’.

      I’ll begin with ‘sorry’ – despite SF soundbites (playing to their support base) that Unionism does nothing on the issue, the historical reality is that from the outset of their cessation Loyalists did ‘apologize’ unequivocally to innocent victims for their armed actions.

      Since then HMG has issued forthright apologies for armed actions by the Army that have been found wanting by killing innocent civilians.

      Such effort should never be ridiculed, scorned or denied for political soundbite.

      In 1990, I lost my Uncle to PIRA action. He’d been kidnapped, held, tortured for 3 days before being shot, and his remains dumped on a border road booby trapped with explosives to kill those participating in the search operation for him.

      I participated in the operation to find him and I identified his body – I saw first hand the electrode burn marks around his leg onto his genitalia, I saw where his finger nails had been pulled out on 1 hand, the battered bruised body and the gaping exit hole left by 3 rounds in the head.

      My family has never received an apology and if one came would it ease the suffering or loss, of my surviving Aunt especially? No, it would not.

      Would an apology get to the truth of collusion between elements of the Irish State and PIRA that led to my Uncle being kidnapped in the first place? No, it would not.

      However would an apology help us emotionally move on a tad further? Absolutely yes. Would an apology alleviate the suspicions of Irish Republican intent, today? Absolutely, yes. Would an apology help us feel an integral part of the evolving society here? Absolutely yes. Would an apology help us forgive the unnecessary brutal nature of his traumatic death? Absolutely, yes.

      I thus concur that authentic apologies will help.

      As a Political Party Activist I was involved in the period 1994-98. In the euphoria of the cessations and the build up to GFA – amnesty was openly discussed amongst all parties (less the DUP who where not participating). It was the very issue of ‘amnesty’ that led to divisiveness of the UUP – for some, it could not be stomached. In part panic at these losses along with the growing more easier agreements which could be reached ‘amnesty’ was mutually agreed (by all participants) to be placed on a back burner.

      The complete momentum of the process was then lost for a good few years for a variety of reasons – decommissioning especially (I can remember how I thought, then, that a combined process of demilitarization with unilateral disarmament by all paramilitaries would take place within 18 months – 2 years after the Ratification of the GFA by the people of the Island).

      More than a decade on, the word is now being bandied again with ‘truth’.

      The GFA, and the now Mandatory Government in operation means that those that suffered loss will not get judicial justice. Outside the ‘proof of evidence’ issue there is simply not, ever, going to be the willpower to pursue prosecutions for paramilitary activity.

      As an advocate of Social and Political change as well as being a victim of Irish Republican attacks, I accept the people who killed members of my family or injured me will never be prosecuted – the process of peace is built on such generosity, and I renounced violence long ago.

      That really does leave ‘truth’ and the only way a process of truth recovery will get off the ground is if there is an amnesty for those participating, and I write that as a former soldier, peace negotiator, businessman & now arm chair cyber politcian!

      • Glen B …..I have a tightness in my chest having just read your detailed account of the killing of your uncle. I am deeply moved by what you have written. Conceivably I covered that funeral or visited the home of your mourning family. Names matching your account of events are already jumping to mind. Even more worryingly I may have known some of those or the families of those who visited this inhumanity on your uncle. I feel to strongly about what you have just revealed that I genuinely feel you and your family deserve more than an apology. I say this against the backdrop of the innate decency you have consistently revealed in your writings on this website. I readily acknowledge the intelligence you bring to this debate coming from your perspective always trying to see around the corner to understand the other person’s point of view.
        We need you at the table of reconciliation given your background as a solider with a deep sense of your own history and a readiness to expose yourself to those who think differently to you.

        • Once again thank you for your positive consideration of me however keeping boots firmly on the ground: I am a flawed being with many faults. My experience & hopes for the future make me write and lobby as I do.

          Somehow, I doubt that “SPAD Glenn” or “Member of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee” will happen – my lack of diplomacy, one reason why 🙂

          In 1990, you did of course visit the home and helped with the appeal by aunt A. I was on the ground at the time but your compassion was remarked upon (as well as your journalistic integrity) when I returned for comfort and the funeral.

          It was an awful period – it was the time of the human car bomb by proxy – as well as our ‘capture or kill the terrorist within the rule of law’ operations. Madness.

          What does it matter that you know of people involved – such is journalism.

          We’ve all witnessed horrible things but we’re fortunate – we breathe, and we’re blessed to do better. When convenient get in touch and let us do lunch and a non-cyber catch up.

  2. Sorry is a word they can be used very easily but in the follow up to using this word is the same organizations going to fully commit to a inquiry into their actions, to me, that is the litmus test.

  3. Glenn B, Of course you deserve an apology for what happened to your Uncle, anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. But the following statement is beyond belief “Since then HMG has issued forthright apologies for armed actions by the Army that have been found wanting by killing innocent civilians” The British army has on occasion been forced to apology for a few of it’s actions only after long and hard fought campaigns by victims families. Like all those who were involved in armed actions the British army still have much to account for.
    My best friend was murdered by the BA while still in his early teens. They fired a Plastic bullet at his head from a distance of approx. 8 feet. Following his murder the BA begin a campaign of lies and harassment against his family including battering his younger brother and on another occasion a BA officer held a gun to the head of his mother and told her if she didn’t get the street (her own street) he would blow her f*****g head off just like her son. This family has never received an apology or justice and continue to fight for justice.
    As for the UVF apology, there has been numerous allegations of deaths and injuries against them from that date, so who were they playing to.

  4. Tony,

    Thanks for your participation on eamonnmallie.com

    am sorry for the loss of your friend, and the unprofessional,
    unacceptable, abusive behavior by members of the Army – it should have
    never happened, it was wrong. If I was ‘General Glenn’ I would apologize
    formally but alas I don’t carry that authority. I do however hope you
    can take some comfort from my words and accept that as former indigenous
    professional soldier of the Field Army: I am sorry.

    You have zeroed in on 1 comment by me, and I stand by the comment against the backdrop to the thread I was commenting on.

    do however accept that HMG have apologized for the killing of innocent
    civilians only after lobbying, legal campaigns or inquiry.

    Army and Police killed 367 people over the period of the Troubles,
    that’s around 10% of the death toll so I don’t doubt there are other
    questionable deaths of civilians in that number.

    suffered, I have suffered and we are not alone because Republican
    Paramilitaries killed around 2139 people over the period of
    the troubles (around 58% of the death toll) while Loyalists
    Paramilitaries killed around 1050 people (around 29% of the death toll).

    There is a lack of ‘justice’ all around us and that in mind I
    refer to my comment on ‘the judicial process’. A judicial process will
    not happen against those who murdered my family or injured.

    As a
    contribution to the evolving political process I accepted that long
    ago. As someone who renounces violence it sits OK for me in my personal

    I accept others will demand a judicial process while others may seek revenge and others seek simply the truth

  5. The use of percentages does really work for me. For example your uncle was brutally tortured by members of the IRA, I know numerous people who were tortured by the BA and the police services, both inside and outside their bases. I myself as a 15 year old, who had as much interest in politics as the man on the moon was arrested, taken to Springfield Road Barracks and brutalised. I am in no way equating this to be on a Par with what happened to your uncle and his families suffering. Like you i have many examples of Brutality.
    To quote these numbers as cold percentages fails to take into account the role that the British intelligence agencies played in the deaths of many citizens. The actions of Scap could not have been carried out without approval of his handlers, Likewise the rearming of loyalists through Brian Nelson was done with assistance of the British security services. Add the facilitation of information to loyalist groups from members of local agencies like RUC and the UDR would not have been done without the knowledge/approval of the British intelligence services.
    I do not state any of this to score points, as that is pointless, but to show not all percentages are absolute truths.
    I agree with that a Judicial process will not happen, and that is/will be incredibly hard for a lot of people, as is seeing people holding positions of power who they hold responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. No one should hide from that fact. I honestly believe Politics should be allowed to breath and grow whether they develop my own personal aspirations or not, it is up to me in an atmosphere of citizenship to convince others of my argument, but this will never work unless we as society develop a process that helps those who have suffered most.
    This process can only work if it ensures honesty, sincerity and reality. That people look the reality of their actions, rather than attempt to justify or excuse them. The process must be thought out and understood. Participation must be voluntary. It is my sincere believe that any process will be destroyed by attempts by anyone who uses it to proof that their side was morally right. There is a massive different between an action being morally wrong and a aspiration being morally wrong.

    • Tony,

      It’s unfortunate you don’t read my posts in full and in the spirit of how they’re presented.

      The statistics I presented relate to the death toll and they are accurate. I gave them as evidence that we are not the only ones that suffered, not to start a pissing up the wall contest over who did what to who, or start a debate as to tactics used in the course of the troubles (imagined or real).

      My initial piece was in reply to the Rev Harold Good specific to the need for many people / organizations / States to say ‘sorry’ and discussing what ‘sorry’ would mean for me and / or my family if we received it. It wasn’t demanding an apology, it was discussing a hypothetical situation if one ever came – my initial post was about nothing more & nothing less.

      Since returning back home to live permanently I have become a regular contributor on this website – if you read through my posts you will see that I apply nothing but ‘truth’ in my script – I hide from nothing, I don’t justify or excuse any incident of the past – I face it head on – all of it and I am a lobbyist for others to do likewise.

      On the issue of ‘truth’ I have been an advocate for amnesty and I am passionate that we resolve the truth of the past – not justice, not revenge, simply the truth.

      Finally, you, me, Eamonn, Barney and every contributor on this site could argue the toss daily about the past but you know what – all our steam will not change what happened 1 jot.

      We all have a shared inherited past but by god it will not drag us down – the future is what we make it, today and I have both eyes firmly on the horizon of positive contribution and sustainable change management.

      • Nor was I accusing of starting any such contest. I was merely pointing out that although those figures may be an accurate of deaths, it is not an accurate account of the people who influenced many of those deaths. A process which does not examine all the factors involved, and which focus’s in the comfortable bad guys is doomed to failure.
        If any process does not have the participation of all those who impacted so much on our society then it will drag us down and the naysayers will rightly be able to say I told you so.. I believe that the failure to examine what influence the Intelligence services actions had upon the lives of so many people and having their roles properly attributed is an essential element. For me to state this is not an attempt to lessen the role of others, but to ensure that there is parity within any future examination of our shared history,

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