Issue 51 of VIEW looks at Victims, Survivors and Legacy issues in Northern Ireland. We would like to thank our guest editor Alan McBride.
Alan, who lost his wife and father-in-law in the Shankill Road bombing in 1993, is a manager at the WAVE Trauma Centre in Belfast. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust in helping to make this edition possible.
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Below is the guest editorial from Alan.
I lost my wife 25 years ago at the hands of the IRA. At the time I worked as a butcher on the Shankill Road in Belfast, just a block down from where she and nine others lost their lives. Despite the trauma of that day I have tried to remain optimistic about Northern Ireland and the moves by some to bring the violence to an end.
There have been undoubted highs, like the IRA decommissioning their weapons, Sinn Fein signing up to policing and age-old adversaries like Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sharing power. Sadly, there have also been lows, like the 158 people that have been murdered, the growing polarisation of politics and the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It would appear to many that we are going backwards with an apparent inability by even the most forward-thinking politicians to stop the slide. That said, the thing that bothers me the most is that those who could really make a difference, perhaps the only ones who could make a difference, don’t seem to care.
This thought came home to me as I listened to a radio show a few weeks ago. The Assembly being down was thrashed about by politicians from the two big parties, but rather than trying to fix the problem this morning’s guests were once again playing the blame game.
It didn’t matter what the issue was as they smugly argued the size of their mandates as justification for the stance they have taken and the resulting stalemate. How long will the electorate let them get away with this?
I would like to appeal for a different kind of politics. It’s time to put the past behind us and to start and deliver the kind of Northern Ireland I and so many people like me voted for in the Good Friday Agreement. That said, the past won’t simply disappear. It’s for this reason that a process has been put forward to allow society to deal with the past in a way that doesn’t cast a shadow over the future.
It isn’t perfect and there will always be those who have suffered that will remain unmoved by it, but it is my view that the mechanisms for dealing with the past, contained in the Stormont House Agreement, have the potential to bring much needed redress to victims and survivors. Society owes them nothing less, and (if implemented) could lead to the fresh start so many of them are looking for.
I made my own fresh start when Sharon died by moving out of my Loyalist estate into a mixed area. I wanted my daughter to grow up with friends from all sides of the community and it worked. Zoe got to be friends with a couple of little Catholic girls from across the street and I got to be friends with their parents.
One Eleventh Night I was getting ready to go round the bonfires, something I had done since I was a child. My Catholic neighbours from across the street called over and invited me and Zoe to a barbeque at their house. I explained that we could go for a while but since it was the Eleventh Night I would have to leave early to go round to the fires.
What happened next has stayed with me for a long time and has served as a reminder of the kind of Northern Ireland which I want to live in. When we arrived at their house they had built a small bonfire in their back garden, just for me. There were no flags on this fire and no effigy to be burned. I sat around the fire, drinking beer and eating a burger. We talked about everything and anything as our kids laughed and played together in the garden.
Later on as I stood watching an Irish Tricolour burn on another loyalist bonfire I thought about what had just happened in my neighbours’ house and wondered why it couldn’t be like that all the time. That’s the kind of Northern Ireland I voted for in 1998. It’s still the kind of Northern Ireland I want to be part of in 2019.
Imagine how society could be transformed if we tried to please our neighbours and make them feel welcome rather than please ourselves? An Irish Language act? No problem. An act that protects the culture of Unionists and Loyalists? No problem. These things don’t have to be contradictory or cost the earth and be delivered at the cost of education or health.
The cost of not doing it is costing us so much more in terms of missed opportunities and the ability to steer our own course. How long will those in power continue to play hardball before the penny drops? We need all our politicians working together to deliver the kind of Northern Ireland envisaged in the Belfast Agreement. The agreement didn’t have much to say on victims, but it did say that ‘the achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence’.
I believe that’s still the goal and this year I want those that could be in power to climb down off their high horses and deliver it.
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