Belfast Telegraph

Birmingham bombs: Just saying sorry for murder is not enough

Editor's Viewpoint

The BBC interview with a self-confessed IRA man linked to the Birmingham pub bombings in which 21 people died shed no new light on the 1974 atrocity, and indeed raised more questions rather than providing answers.

It is difficult to know what Michael Hayes' motivation for taking part in the programme was. Perhaps he was merely trying to carve himself a notorious niche in an inglorious history of terrorism.

He certainly was not convincing any of those bereaved by or injured in the blasts of the sincerity of his apology for the actions of the IRA, and he was careful to deny that he planted the devices while still maintaining that he played a part in the IRA's English bombing campaign.

At best, he could be said to be a witness of dubious credibility, but even if his account was true - and he was previously named as a suspect in that and other IRA atrocities - he shed no light on the events of that tragic night.

It is easy to understand the outrage of relatives of those killed in response to the screening. To them, Hayes was simply recalling their trauma without offering them anything worthwhile in return. If he was indeed contrite, why not admit if he was directly involved in the bombings or not? Why not name the other people involved? Why not apologise to the six men wrongly convicted of the crime and who spent many years in jail? Instead, the real bombers kept silent. While one of the men wrongly convicted said that even if the IRA had admitted the wrong men were in jail it would not have led to their release, the terror organisation simply let them rot until campaigners eventually forced their release.

What the programme did show was a glimpse into the concept of truth and reconciliation. Such a body has been a central plank in all attempts to deal with the legacy of the past and as a way of bringing some closure to those bereaved by terrorism.

Yet if former terrorists adopt the same approach as Hayes, then the concept becomes meaningless.

While trial by media can never be equated to the forensic examination of a legal forum, even the most adroit inquisitor will fail if those in the witness box are determined to give only generalised information without any admission of self-involvement.

Any such body will be of value only if there is agreement from all sides for transparency, honesty and candour - virtues notably alien to terrorists.

Belfast Telegraph

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