Belfast Telegraph

For the sake of people like Rev Parker, we must never forget Bloody Friday

By Alf McCreary

The death of the Rev Joseph Parker in Canada last Saturday at 89 is a reminder of the trauma which convulsed this province in 1972, the worst year of the Troubles.

People of my generation can still hardly describe how bad it was.

One day, at the height of summer of 1972, the Provisional IRA exploded 22 bombs at different locations within a one-mile radius of Belfast city centre.

Six people were killed at Oxford Street bus station - four civilians and two soldiers. The carnage was so bad that rescue workers had to shovel body parts into plastic bags.

In the Cavehill Road area, the Provos exploded more bombs, killing three more innocent people, including 14-year-old Stephen Parker.

His father, Joe Parker, the chaplain to the Missions for Seamen, had the heartbreaking task of identifying his son by one of his hands, his belt, and a box of schoolboy's trick matches in his pocket.

The Rev Parker also had the dreadful task of telling Stephen's older brother, Roger, then only 16, and the rest of the family about Stephen's death.

The mastermind of Bloody Friday died years ago, but no doubt senior Provos who helped plan it are still around.

I still wonder what they think they achieved with the vicious murder of young Stephen and all the others.

The Rev Joe Parker launched a virtual one-man campaign for peace and reconciliation that included an all-night vigil outside Belfast City Hall.

He persevered, and by 1975 had established a movement called Witness For Peace, which helped to sow some of the seeds of reconciliation that grew into the Good Friday Agreement.

In the same year, the Rev Parker emigrated to Canada with his family, and became chaplain to the Missions for Seamen in Vancouver. He carried out an important, fruitful ministry there, until he retired in 1993.

Sadly, little notice was given to the Rev Parker here after he settled in Canada, though one important connection remains.

Stephen was a student of the City of Belfast School of Music, and played the French horn in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra. A large sum of money donated after Stephen's death was invested, and more has been added since then.

Each year, 75% of the income generated through this is awarded through the Stephen Parker Memorial Trust to the member or members of the youth orchestra "who make the best all-round progress during the year". What a beautiful way to keep Stephen's memory alive.

The work of his father in Canada was further evidence that light and hope can emerge from great darkness, but at an enormous price in suffering and grief.

The Rev Parker visited Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and he saw this significant event as the culmination of a long campaign for peace that had been started by organisations like Witness for Peace.

This makes it all the more galling to realise that the power-sharing government at Stormont has ground to a halt and that our politicians continue to display their mutual loathing and in-fighting in public.

Is that what people like Stephen Parker died for? Is this what campaigners like his father and so many others devoted their lives to achieving?

Today, Sinn Fein is gaining ground in the Republic, supported by young voters who were not alive in 1972 and who know little and perhaps care even less about Bloody Friday.

The party is also busily re-writing history, telling gullible people that armed republicans were the good guys when they were not.

The life and death of Stephen Parker and his father, and all the innocent people who suffered so grievously as the result of republican violence, is a reminder that we must not accept Sinn Fein's version of events, but instead focus on the appalling truth about Bloody Friday and all the other atrocities.

The Rev Parker has passed on, but we should never forget his courage and what he stood for.

Belfast Telegraph

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