Belfast Telegraph

Best show stirs echoes of a past we must address

By Alf McCreary

Four nights ago I went to see the George Best musical, Dancing Shoes, and it is well worth seeing, if you can manage to get a ticket for today or for the extended run next week.

It is a compelling morality tale about the rise and fall of our superstar hero with the magic feet which turn into clay. Dancing Shoes has fine writing, catchy music, good direction and acting, rich humour, drama, and pathos.

My evening was completed by a stroll with my wife and friends to our cars near the Grand Opera House, in a Belfast city centre that was peaceful and normal on a lovely summer evening.

However, I could not help thinking that it was so different during the same week in 1971, when all hell broke loose in Belfast after the introduction of internment.

The city was extremely tense, as my colleagues and I reported on the mayhem in west Belfast and elsewhere for this newspaper.

However, this period was also memorable for me in that our elder son Mark, now a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, was born.

At the time, I was particularly conscious of the people who were killed by paratroopers in Ballymurphy, at almost the exact time that I was welcoming our first-born son in Carrickfergus Hospital.

The cycle of birth and death never seemed more real than it did to me then, and I have never forgotten the tension and trauma and also the personal family joy, of those days.

Therefore it was with a special interest that I read about the call from the relatives of the Ballymurphy 11 for an investigation into the killing of their loved ones.

The only thing that surprised me was the length of time it has taken to bring this into open. The overriding desire of the relatives, quite rightly, is for justice and also a sense of closure.

However, so much attention was given to the Bloody Sunday deaths in Derry/Londonderry and elsewhere, that the focus never seemed to be fixed on Ballymurphy.

This may now change, though I am certain that another Saville Inquiry will not materialise.

The time and money spent on that will not be repeated, but there is certainly a need for an official recognition of what happened in Ballymurphy, and also for a simple and timely apology, not unlike that given to the Derry relatives by Prime Minister David Cameron.

However, one factor of particular interest to me is the willingness of the Roman Catholic Church to make available a previously withheld report by a senior cleric Canon Padraig Murphy about the Ballymurphy killings.

Why has it taken the Catholic Church so long to come forward, and if the evidence was so compelling 39 years ago, why was the report not used much sooner to try to kick-start an inquiry?

Bishop Noel Treanor said that we “should courageously and openly have the guts to address the entire ballast of the past... so we may go forward in a healthy way to construct a shared future”.

This, however, is more easily said than done, and the attempt by Lord Eames and his colleagues to help us address the past showed — perhaps more than anything else — the pain and suspicion that continues to fester in the wounds that have not healed.

However, if the past has to be addressed, and no-one seems to know quite how to do it, this must be done in an even-handed manner.

It was therefore timely that the DUP MP for East Derry, Gregory Campbell, asked the Catholic Church to open any files it may have on the 1972 bombing in Claudy, which killed nine people.

It is claimed that this was the work of the Provisional IRA, and that local priest Fr James Chesney played a significant role in that atrocity, and that later he was removed safely to Donegal by the church.

Fr Chesney has since died, but the questions still remain unanswered.

Gregory Campbell’s challenge to the Catholic Church might seem to some like points-scoring, but it is much more than that. It is a reasonable and justifiable approach to ensuring that justice is done for all sides.

The families of the Catholic dead deserve justice.

So, too, do the Protestants, before we can all move on.

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