Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Tit-for-tat moves to glorify bloody past won't heal wounds

Willie Frazer
Willie Frazer

Editor's Viewpoint

The ghosts of the past are never far away and two of them came back to haunt us this week.

A football tournament named after Mairead Farrell, one of three IRA terrorists killed in Gibraltar in 1988, caused controversy and was seen as another example of glorifying terrorism.

Also, senior Orangeman Rev Mervyn Gibson found himself the target of criticism for attending an art exhibition by loyalist killer Michael Stone, whose attack at the funerals of the Gibraltar Three was one of his most notorious actions.

What the protests over these two events demonstrate is that the bereaved and injured of the Troubles remain deeply sensitive to any suggestions that former combatants should be lauded for their acts of terror or those acts should be excused.

The Rev Gibson has learned just how thin a line there is to tread on this issue.

As a member of the Orange Order, he agrees that the organisation should not talk to Sinn Fein because the IRA murdered more than 360 of its members.

That is an understandable position to take, even if stand-offs do little to create a new Northern Ireland.

How then can he justify going to the Stone exhibition and rubbing shoulders with a man who was convicted of six killings? Saying he was there in a private capacity and as a director of the organisation which hosted the exhibition will be regarded by many as dancing on the head of a pin.

The idea of running a football tournament named after one of the Gibraltar Three, like the naming of a children's play park after one of the hunger strikers, is seen by many as deliberately provocative.

Those who were engaged in violence or who supported it don't realise that the past is for thousands of people - the relatives of the 3,000-plus killed and the 40,000 injured - a constant source of pain.

Time does not heal, it merely makes coping a little bit easier.

As Willie Frazer says, his children and grandchildren know his father was murdered by the IRA and wonder why anyone would put up a spiteful placard about that killing on a bonfire.

So how do we deal with the past in a way that acknowledges the hurt caused but also accepts that some of those formerly engaged in terrorism now want to put the past behind them and are working positively for change?

We have to agree that all are entitled to take part in the debate moving forward.

The terrorists did not descend on Northern Ireland from outer space, but emerged from their respective communities and often with significant support within those communities.

Their voices in any debate are legitimate but those who suffered at their hands want some sign that they truly have put that past behind them.

The acts of terror which cost lives and caused maiming - and those responsible - are not events or people deserving of celebration.

Whatever anyone says, the moral authority lies with the victims and the bereaved, and they have been treated shamefully over the decades.

The very least they deserve is that those engaged in violence in the past now treat them with respect.

Sinn Fein's touring roadshows of events to celebrate fallen IRA members is bound to cause hurt and ensure alienation.

Similarly those who put up posters celebrating one of the UVF terrorists involved in the Miami showband ambush are equally insensitive.

Constant prodding of each other will never ease the pain.

Belfast Telegraph


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