The Belfast Telegraph today reveals details of a remarkable first meeting in the story of Northern Ireland’s war and peace.
Sixteen years after the slaughter of the IRA Shankill bomb, Alan McBride and Gerry Adams have now come face to face — and shaken hands.
Mr McBride lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond Frizzell in the explosion on October 23, 1993. The blast killed 10 people in all, including IRA man Thomas Begley as he planted his own bomb. Mr Adams was a pallbearer at Begley’s funeral.
“I see myself as a peace builder,” Mr McBride, now a member of Northern Ireland’s Victims Forum, told this newspaper.
“That’s my mission. You don’t make peace with your friends. You have to make peace with your enemies.”
Their hour-long meeting — last Wednesday — was facilitated by former Methodist president Harold Good, one of the church witnesses to the IRA’s decommissioning. “It was entirely genuine and profoundly moving,” Mr Good said.
“As a pastor and a preacher the words that came to mind were ‘amazing grace’,” he said.
Mr McBride and Mr Adams agreed to meet privately, days before being filmed together by Channel 4 for a series due to be broadcast early next year.
That filming took place in Belfast yesterday.
In August, Alan McBride told the Telegraph how he had “made his peace” with Gerry Adams.
The two had exchanged letters, but last week was their first ever meeting. “He acknowledged my pain, my hurt, and he apologised to me,” Mr McBride said.
“I thought he was respectful. I did find him genuine. I don’t see Gerry Adams as the pariah that I once saw him as.
“Nor does that mean everything that happened in the conflict was right, none of it was justified.
“The 40 years of madness we’ve come through wasn’t worth one of the lives that were lost — or the lives of young people lost in prison. I don’t believe we are any closer to a united Ireland, nor do I believe that the Union is any more secure,” he said.
On the question of Northern Ireland’s past, Mr McBride believes there are many people with questions to answer: “The strong-est message,” he said, “is the Troubles should never have happened.”
“Those lives should never have been lost, and there are people with questions to answer including Gerry Adams, and people on the loyalist side and people on the British side.
“It’s all sides,” he said, “and it’s not just those who took up arms.”
Long way from the horror on Shankill
Analysis from Brian Rowan
He knows both men and is trusted by them. He also knows the importance of quiet conversations in a developing peace.
At the meeting place last Wednesday he was with Alan McBride when Gerry Adams arrived with his aide Richard McAuley.
“We did shake hands,” Mr McBride told this newspaper, and then as they chatted “in a very natural discussion” he had a glass of water and a banana, and Gerry Adams had coffee and a scone.
For most of the time they were together Rev Harold Good and Richard McAuley listened as the other two men spoke. This was their conversation.
“A meeting such as this is hugely symbolic of what is possible,” the churchman told this newspaper.
“As I sat and listened, I thought of the journey which both have made in their own way to come to this place,” he said. That place is a long way from that bomb and that rubble on the Shankill Road in October 1993, and from the statements made that day by the IRA and the UFF.
Hopes of peace appeared to have been buried in that blast, but within twelve months both the IRA and the loyalists had declared their ceasefires.
The long journeys of Gerry Adams and Alan McBride brought them to a meeting place last Wednesday.
“We can understand that there are those on all sides of this conflict who would find this kind of meeting very difficult and we respect that,” Mr Good said.
“These are very personal journeys for people to make in their own way and in their own time, and this must also be respected,” he added.
Sixteen years after the bomb, a story of extraordinary journeys is beginning to be told.