The real legacy of Northern Ireland Troubles? The pain never goes away ...
George Larmour's brother John was shot dead by IRA gunmen 30 years ago next week. With two days to go until the end of the Government's public consultation on the past, he says you don't need a questionnaire to know what victims and survivors want
The word "legacy" has dominated the news in recent weeks, with the latest attempt at dealing with our Troubles past. For those who were, mercifully, untouched by that evil, October is just another month. But for many families, the past and what happened to our loved ones is, unfortunately, with us every month and will continue to invade our daily lives far into the future. The pain never stops. That's the real legacy of our Troubles.
Mine is only one of many such stories of lingering loss and heartache. It's 30 years this month since two IRA gunmen walked into my family-run ice cream parlour, Barnam's World of Ice Cream in Belfast, pretending to be customers. Two men with an unquenchable thirst, not for ice cream, but for revenge and a callous desire to honour their comrades killed in Gibraltar just months earlier.
I've spent those 30 years seeking the truth about the unsolved murder of my brother, John, whom the gunmen brutally shot and killed that night - an off-duty police officer, who had nothing to do with what happened in Gibraltar.
But, in the gunmen's eyes, even off-duty, unarmed and vulnerable, while serving ice cream to children, he was a "legitimate target".
That was all the excuse they needed for killing him: any target would do to satisfy their hunger for revenge.
Two men so filled with blind, bloodthirsty hatred that they considered two teenage customers equally guilty and they shot them as well in their lust for retaliation; to "even the score" in their tit-for-tat mentality.
Thankfully, those teenagers survived.
Over those 30 years, I have listened as politicians and chief constables continually said victims and their families were important and that the legacy of the past must be dealt with, but did nothing worthwhile to achieve that hollow promise.
So, 30 years after John's cold-blooded murder, I still wait for someone to tell me the complete truth. The unpalatable truth - that Special Branch members probably listened and recorded in an IRA safe house my brother's murder being plotted. A safe house that, unknown to the IRA, had already been bugged by Special Branch with sophisticated listening devices.
Instead of preventing John's murder, did some members of Special Branch spend time preparing their persuasive 30 pieces of silver to put before the godfather as part of their plan to recruit him as a new informant?
Did they continue to listen as the godfather and the gunmen rejoiced after they murdered John?
How many more 30 pieces of silver changed hands over the past 30 years to Special Branch/MI5-controlled killer/informants with their approval and guidance?
Sadly, truth and justice for victims and survivors have been forever tarnished, along with all those corrupt and grubby 30 pieces of silver.
I often wonder if the gunmen are still proud of killing the ice cream man. As they celebrated their many Christmas days and birthdays with their own families over the past 30 years, did they ever remember all the other anniversaries they created for so many broken-hearted, grief-stricken victims' families, whose loved ones they had murdered?
After New York's mayor ludicrously renamed St Patrick's Day "Gerry Adams' Day" earlier this year, Adams, when asked by a journalist if violence was a legitimate means to achieve political aims, answered yes, violence could be considered legitimate, in "given circumstances". A shameful answer, revealing he is still willing to spill out his bitter, poisonous, apologist-for-violence venom and teach more impressionable young people that violence is okay - under "given circumstances".
I presume Adams includes the brutal killing of innocent people, such as Joanne Mathers, a young mother collecting census forms, or Mary Travers, a young schoolteacher coming home from Sunday Mass, or 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Jonathan Ball in Warrington in his catch-all "given circumstances" justification.
You can never rewrite those sorts of wrongs, Mr Adams. They weren't legitimate acts then, under any circumstances, and they are not justifiable today, or in the future. There are no "given circumstances" when violence is ever legitimate.
All violence and all murders are wrong - no matter what organisation is responsible. There is always a better way to achieve one's aims.
I sincerely hope, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, that our politicians - from all parties - learn something from the mistakes and rhetoric of the past and choose their eulogising words more carefully in the future.
Victims and survivors have grown weary and understandably frustrated and angry waiting for answers. Many have died never knowing the truth and others will continue to do so. A shameful situation.
As I remember my brother John, 30 years after his name was added to the long list of Lost Lives of our Troubles past, and review the latest legacy consultation scheme that puts the onus on the thousands of long-suffering survivors and victims' families to hold out their Oliver Twist begging bowls and plead for more false promises, I hope it doesn't turn out to be yet another costly and lengthy academic talking shop.
It shouldn't have needed a questionnaire and consultation to tell those in authority what victims and survivors want; we've been telling them for years, summed up in two simple words - justice and truth - that will, hopefully, not remain hidden, callously swept under the Troubles' blood-soaked carpet of deceit for another 30 years.
George Larmour is the author of They Killed The Ice Cream Man (Colourpoint)