Belfast Telegraph

I can't just sit back and let them airbrush our history

By Ed Curran

Let me nail a serious misconception in the debate over Mary McArdle's appointment as a special adviser at Stormont. The misconception is as follows.

If it hadn't been for the ex-prisoners, republican and loyalist, the people who did most of the killing, there wouldn't have been a peace process.

It was down to them because, after all the murder and mayhem they indulged in, they saw the light and found peace in their more mature years.

I heard no less than the Rev Harold Good - a man for whom I have the utmost respect - suggest that the peace process was not the product of polite conversation in "suburban sitting-rooms".

He was expounding on the role which republican and loyalist paramilitaries had played in bringing us to where we are today.

Mr Good, like many others who were interviewed in the media last week after a two-day conference of ex-prisoners, laid the credit for peace at their feet.

Thrown together in the one location were former diehards, euphemistically known as 'ex-prisoners', but collectively with hundreds of years of sentences between them, reflecting some of the most heinous crimes of the Troubles.

Ms McArdle, who was in the IRA gang which shot dead Mary Travers as she left her place of worship, no doubt benefited from the extraordinary outburst of sympathy which the ex-prisoners' conference evoked. In spite of the wave of criticism over her appointment, she, too, is lauded for the great contribution she has made to peace.

We are living through incredulous times when the brutal history of the Troubles is being rewritten before our eyes. It is truly breathtaking.

We see people populating television studios who have been let out of jail free, who have passed go and collected a lot more than £200 from the public purse and who are now telling us that, if it hadn't been for them, we wouldn't be where we are today.

So let me - I hope on behalf of the vast majority of the people of this island, north and south, who were never republican militants or loyalist paramilitaries and were appalled by all that they stood for - nail the misconception.

Tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens - yes, in their suburban sitting-rooms, on their farms, in their daily workplaces - were not part of the dirty war of murder and bombing.

They were the people who really brought peace to this country by their rejection of violence.

By their unsung understanding that violence was madness and that the people engaged in it would eventually have to come to their senses and realise that it was the road to nowhere.

Republican and loyalist alike could have made peace a lot earlier, yet they carried on regardless of all objective comment.

And now that they have stopped, some have the arrogance and the nerve to tell people who never fired a shot in anger that they - the paramilitaries - are the real architects of the peace we now enjoy.

They suggest that we should be so grateful for their contribution that we should accept Mary McArdle and other republican and loyalist killers as nice, decent people - which they most certainly weren't when they cocked their guns and planted their bombs all those years ago.

Of course, we should all be grateful for the republicans and loyalists rejecting violence in the last resort. Rehabilitating ex-prisoners is essential and deserving of public and political support. However, we should not allow ourselves to be deluded, or carried away, by some of today's rose-tinted arguments.

The ex-prisoners did not bring peace. They played a part very belatedly in a peace for which the population in general laid the foundations by their support for politicians such as John Hume and other democratic, non-violent nationalist and unionist leaders over many years.

For more than 30 years they - the ex-prisoners - were actually an obstacle to peace. Now that they have arrived where they should have been a long time ago, they might consider themselves the last people in this community to claim credit for the peace process, but they don't.

It is the great, silent majority of this island which should be shouting from the rooftops. Without the good sense, the determination and resilience of that silent majority to stand against violence and terrorism, we would not be where we are today.

A game of self-delusion is underway and it is embracing even the suburban sitting-rooms of Ireland, north and south, where the peace process had its true foundations.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph