At Milltown Cemetery yesterday Martina Anderson was introduced both as the Sinn Fein MEP and as a former POW – meaning prisoner of war.
Like hundreds – thousands of republicans – her story reads from the conflict years through to the ‘peace’, into a process that has been developing over the past two decades.
It has been a long and, at times, a very slow road.
Not many will remember, but at this time, twenty years ago, the IRA announced a 72-hour Easter ceasefire.
No one knew what it would bring. There was no certainty about peace and political agreements back then.
Rather it was the beginning of that long journey out of conflict – a road travelled by many in yesterday’s republican setting, including Martina Anderson.
Bobby Storey was there, as were Padraic Wilson, Martin Lynch and Brendan McFarlane.
Over the past twenty years, they have been important voices in the internal IRA debates through ceasefires, decommissioning and the endorsement of new politics and policing.
And you could see in the crowds that lined the parade route in west Belfast that the vast bulk of the republican community has been prepared to travel this journey.
But yesterday, in a reference to those now termed dissidents, Martina Anderson spoke of a “small minority” still attempting to derail the progress in the peace process.
“They are criminals masquerading as republicans no matter what names they attach to themselves,” she said.
“Their actions sully the name of republicanism.
“And as we prepared to gather at Easter time to commemorate our patriot dead one of these small groups took the life of Thomas Crossan in this city.”
The Sinn Fein politician described the shooting as a senseless action and said those responsible should go away.
Crossan was a one-time leader of the Continuity IRA in the city – a dissident faction that has split into many rival parts.
Yesterday, as someone tried to explain its many bits to me, I got lost in that complicated and confusing maze.
What we do know is that the various dissident groups under several titles have a capacity to kill, but they are small – very small – compared to the mainstream republican movement.
That movement and its leadership must continue to set examples.
IRA statements have long disappeared from the Easter Commemoration at Milltown.
The message now is political and delivered by senior and prominent Sinn Fein figures.
Yesterday it included the need to make progress on the Haass proposals on flags, parades and the past – and on the work of reconciliation.
But on these occasions there are still reminders of the old days – seen in the garb of the colour party, in the marching steps and shouted orders.
Is all of this still needed as proof that the dead are being remembered – that they haven’t been forgotten?
Still needed 20 years after the ceasefires of 1994 and 16 years on from the Good Friday Agreement?
These are important questions for the republican leadership to address – questions for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
This far into the process, surely it is time to put the uniforms and wooden guns away.
Peace has to look right – has to feel right.
The numbers participating and watching yesterday give confirmation that the Adams and McGuinness peace strategy has been endorsed and followed.
But the convincing has to stretch beyond the republican community and, some of those images yesterday, will remind people of the old days.
Across the world, this place is looked to as an example of what can be achieved.
The west Belfast singer songwriter Joby Fox has just been invited to Hong Kong as part of UNESCO’s International Arts Education Week.
UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and its festival celebrates the valuable role the arts can play in peace building.
“A lot of people still look at this part of the world as a success story bringing about a peace settlement to the recent conflict,” Fox said.
“But we all know that there are still unresolved issues such as trauma and the thorny issue of reconciliation,” he said.
He is right that the peace is unfinished and incomplete – and that there is work still to be done.
The ‘wars’ are over and remembering the dead shouldn’t come with reminders of the gun.
That’s something to think about before next Easter, but not just thinking for republicans but right across the board.
We need confirmation and affirmation of the peace – not the old war images.
Nice piece Brian, very thought provoking, wrote something similar a few months back but on a larger scale. http://kevmacd.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/remembering-to-forget/
Barney, you are So wrong. I am not a militarist but one has to acknowledge that the IRA campaign altered politics fundamentally and empowered the nationalists. At Easter I remember them.
Danny in remembering there are reminders. This piece is not suggesting that everybody should forget but rather think a bit more about commemoration and how it is done. That’s a challenge not just for republicans but for everyone and for all the sides.
There’s an interesting piece in the May issue of An Phoblacht on ‘Commemoration, memory and history’ by Dr Johnston McMaster of the Ethical and Shared Remembering Project.
Brian, you have a point about the remembrance of the paramilitary activities which ended about 20 years ago.
But how does that compare with the paramilitary trappings of the Orange and Black orders commemorating activities in 1690 – 320 years ago?
Tiffins Regiment of Foot was raised as an Irish Regiment to Williamite Forces in 1689 at Castle Balfour in Lisnaskea. I’m assuming that’s what you refer as a ‘paramilitary trapping’ but it became the first formal Irish regiment of the Field Army and thus the oldest standing military tradition of this entire Island that evolved to various regiments.
At partition most of those regular army regiments chose to allign with fragmented paramilitary Republican forces to create the original Óglaigh na hÉireann, and swear allegiance to the new Free State which later became the Republic, known today as the Irish Army.
Other line regiments refused to give up their original Colours & remained loyal to Crown: the Royal Ulster Rifles; Royal Inniskillings & The Royal Irish Fusiliers continued within the Field Army serving with distinction in many theaters until they amalgamated in 1968 to become the Royal Irish Rangers.
The Royal Irish Rangers ( R IRISH ), recruiting North & South, continued to play their role in the Field Army. They where the last Irish Infantry Regiment of the Line within HM Army.
In 1992, at political insistence, the Royal Irish Rangers had to amalgamate with the Ulster Defense Regiment. The new Regiment became the Royal Irish Regiment and was broken down between the Field Army Unit (the General Service) and the local Northern Ireland Security Force Units that where formerly UDR known as Home Service (HS).
In 2007, post the announcement of PIRA disbandment the HS Battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment were disbanded.
The 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment continues as an airborne unit within HM Field Army. Their most recent tour was in Mali with the modern Óglaigh na hÉireannn and they continue the finest of Irish military traditions.
While the regimental motto is: Fág a’ Bealach, that was translated in the 18th century to the anglicization which was Faugh a Ballagh (Clear the Way)
Personally I choose: ‘Faithful to friend; Fearful to Foe’ the motto of all Irish Warriors.
So the Irish state can remember the Easter Rising with “reminders of the gun” via participation by the Defence Forces but not republicans who felt abandoned by partition?
(And what about the British state’s almost universal use of its armed forces – including the RIR – and “reminders of the gun” in ceremonial events and commemorations?)
Nail on the head.
Warriors fear to remember. Often, they choose to try forget. Killing, is killing, no matter the justification of command or right.
Command is an awful duty in any type of war.
Often, it is/was wrong and always will be wrong
However: pageantry is not harming.
Soldiers: Standing Army; Field Army; Guerrilla Army; Militia Army; Paramilitary or otherwise have mapped human history.
Any true soldier of above, has a right to gather and remember with survivors, in a dignified and military manner.
Nobody that wasn’t there should sabre-rattle.
Brian, remembering and the act of commemorating here is always going to be difficult. I was at the parade with a PhD student and he openly spoke about feeling at ease and comfortable. References to the past were made but not I think in an overtly militaristic or threatening way – the street theatre piece before the parade got underway put the tone and feel of the day in context. And whilst Martina Anderson was rightly Introduced as a POW and an elected representative – the crowd and the message conveyed was very much about the future and a community moving forward. The gun accompanied costumes and period dress and is a reminder of how far we’ve come. For many it did play a part in the process – but the day and the mood of Easter is about reflection and personal and collective remembering.
Barry, of course it’s difficult and it’s not just how it feels within a particular community. What’s also important is how it looks to others. This is not just an issue for republicans, but for loyalists and the military. Remembering also comes with reminders. On Sunday the colour party wasn’t in period dress. I don’t think anyone needs to get into a uniform of any description to remember the dead.
My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.
Republican and loyalist, remembering, triumphalist. I thought about it as the blood ran from your face. In a flash i understood, what i had never understood and never thought i ever would before .
How to remember least we forget and do it all again.
Let’s see if Mr Rowan draws any remarks about “reminders of the gun” if anyone turns up at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in Military Uniform