Belfast Telegraph

Harold Good feared arrest trying to get Eta to give up guns

By Noel McAdam

A former head of the Methodist Church has told of how he feared being arrested as he tried to end the longest-running terrorist campaign in Europe.

Rev Harold Good, who helped found the Corrymeela peace and reconciliation centre in the early 1970s, played a key role in the process that led to Basque separatist group Eta decommissioning its weapons.

The ex-Methodist President, who turns 80 later this month, was due back in Northern Ireland from Spain today. He spoke of his contacts in the Basque territory, which had been built up over the years.

He was also recently in Colombia to support the peace process developing between the government and Farc rebels.

And he spoke at the funeral of Martin McGuinness, revealing the senior Sinn Fein figure once shared a room overnight with him and fellow IRA decommissioning overseer Fr Alec Reid, who died in 2013.

Asked yesterday how he coped with the intense and sensitive work, he quipped: "There's no fool like an old fool."

But he added: "Saint Paul in Corinthians urges us to be foolish for Christ."

Rev Good and the Redemptorist priest Fr Reid were asked to become involved in discussions aimed at ending the violent Eta campaign for an independent Basque homeland.

"After the whole process of decommissioning around 2005 with Fr Reid, who had already been visiting the Basque region, he and I were invited by the Basque government to an awards ceremony," he said.

"It was only when I got there I realised it was to invite us to open up conversations with a range of people on what they could learn from our process.

"That brought me into a series of ongoing relations and I have been back and forward over a period of time.

"Every so often they would ask me to come and speak to a group or meet political folks, along with Fr Alec initially, and then he became unable to make those journeys and they asked me to continue in that role.

"They would come to Belfast from time to time and I met them there as well."

One attempt to stage decommissioning was thwarted last December when Rev Good believes he came close to being arrested.

"There was to be a formal act of decommissioning and I came over ready to play a role, and the French and Spanish police found out about it and they arrested some of the people involved," he explained.

"Fortunately, however, they didn't know where I was staying. I was in this house waiting for the door to knock and the authorities to arrest me.

"I am sure I would have been arrested, but I was able to get home the next day.

"It was a setback, but I give all credit to the leadership of Eta. The people arrested at that time were not Eta, but some of them were honourable citizens who were assisting in this process, but they were arrested and taken to Paris.

"There had also been a previous attempt (at decommissining).

"They kept being thwarted by the Spanish and French authorities, so various attempts had to be aborted."

That was until Saturday, when, in a discrete ceremony behind drawn curtains in a room in the town hall of the southern French city of Bayonne, a file containing details of Eta's arms dumps was handed over to Rev Good and the other witness, Archbishop Matteo Zuppi from Italy.

The inventory was then passed around the table and Ram Manikkalingam, head of the international verification commission, later confirmed the file had been handed over to the French authorities.

Comparing the procedures with IRA decommissioning, Rev Good revealed: "We had immunity with General John de Chastelain here, but in Spain they didn't give immunity.

"However, they agreed they would not interfere as long as all procedures were followed and so on.

"For us in Northern Ireland, the decommissioning process opened up new opportunities.

"I had been coming and going to the Basque Country over a number of years now trying to encourage them towards the historic day we had on Saturday.

"We've been able to tell them from our experience it opens up new opportunities, and without the disarmament and decommissioning, we'd lose those opportunities."

Eta members killed more than 800 in over 40 years of violence in its pursuit of an independent nation straddling Spain and France.

The organisation declared a ceasefire in 2011 but did not disarm.

French forensic experts can be expected to check whether the weapons have been used in the past.

Around 300 of Eta's 800 murders remain unsolved.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph