Apologise, apologise. Who me?

Two interesting letters in the Irish Times (flagged up to me by Jeff Dudgeon) on the “apology” front worth printing out rather than only hyperlinking to.  Michael Lillis whom I knew and liked had the courage to engage frankly with unionists and thus represented a new departure. In his time it was unionist obduracy that contributed to the Anglo -Irish Agreement, for me the slowburn creative shock treatment that brought them slowly into reality. Others will disagree.

Philip Flynn a former banker after serving as vice president of Sinn Fein many years ago was clearly affected as a young man by the spark lit by IRA border campaign in the 1950s. He denied entanglement in the Northern Bank robbery.  He now distances himself from the foundation Provo narrative, a narrative being amended piecmeal, most recently by Declan Kearney. Will we ever get anything better from that front?

Peter Robinson’s “apology”bid only emphasises how unlikely it is for the whole context up to the late 1960s to be repeated. If we regress, we’ll regress differently. Say what you like about it, this is an age of lack of confidence rather than the general unjustified complacency of the pre-Troubles era.

But now ,you have to ask, what would be the political purpose of apology, and what is apology’s moral force coming from those not directly implicated?  There are plenty around who were implicated in using force or political coat trailing or both.   Maybe apologies all round would be worth hearing including anybody left from the old governing Unionist party (how about it John Taylor?)  And for goodness sake, let’s not leave out the DUP.  But anything, anything  to avoid a fresh bout of whataboutery. 


19 September 2012

An apology for creating the IRA

A chara, – Peter Robinson asks for an apology for the alleged responsibility of an Irish Government in the 1970s for facilitating the emergence and thus the consequent atrocities of the Provisional IRA (Breaking News, September 15th).

He has a point, but he overlooks the direct responsibility of successive unionist governments for the wholescale oppression of the Catholic minority during more than 60 years, beginning in 1922. It seems to me that the pre-eminent failure of successive Irish governments was rather their neglect of the lot of the Northern minority from 1922 to 1968.

When the explosion happened, ministers and officials in Dublin knew almost nothing about the realities of life for most Catholics in Northern Ireland. Yes, they had huffed and puffed for years about partition and the inevitability of “reunification”, knowing that it was all nonsense except that it encouraged young men to take to campaigns of violence which only exacerbated the harassment of many innocents among their co-religionists.

The fact is that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Northern Catholics were systematically thwarted during those 60 years. Daily life for many was a sustained and deliberate humiliation. Peter Barry’s expression “the nightmare of the Northern Catholics” was no exaggeration.

It is acutely distressing that successive governments of all major parties in Dublin did nothing and said almost nothing to the British or to the world to address these specific wrongs until 1968 when it was far too late. Of course none of this excuses the British, the responsible and thus by far the more guilty power, whose consciously deliberate neglect amounted in practice to the encouragement of unionist abuses.

But the fact of uninterrupted blanket neglect of the lot of their fellow nationalists by Dublin is shameful and has something of the character of an original sin dating from the foundation of the State. It is not spoken of.

Had the Dublin establishment (as an official of the Department of External Affairs I was part of it) used its diplomatic and other international resources remorselessly, publicly and privately to pressurise London every day from 1922 onwards to confront and correct these well-documented injustices, the miseries of our more recent history, including of course the unspeakable horrors that were visited on the unionist and nationalist people by the Provisional IRA and loyalist terrorists, might have been avoided.

I suggest that it is to that earlier lost generation of the Catholic minority of Northern Ireland – if to anyone – that Dublin’s principal historic apology is overwhelmingly due.

– Is mise, MICHAEL LILLIS [Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs Anglo-Irish division during the 1980s and Ambassador to UN] Dartmouth Square, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I see that the latest wheeze by unionists politicians is that the Irish Government should apologise for the creation of the IRA. Perhaps they have not enough to occupy them in the Northern Assembly (Home News, September 18th).

In fact we all know that the Irish Government of the day, for good or ill, took the decision that it should try to help those of the nationalist community who were being subjected to what was, in effect, apartheid. In all likelihood, this assisted in the creation of a nascent IRA. With the benefit of hindsight, if one knew what the IRA were to become, of course no right-thinking person would have assisted in its creation.

However, as humans cannot see the future, this argument does not arise. What we do know for a fact is that the terrible, brutal and oppressive system that operated in Northern Ireland at the time of the creation of the IRA is well documented and is a terrible stain on the unionist tradition. Thankfully, we all appear to have moved past this to a brighter future.

Recently, Queen Elizabeth gave as good as an apology to the Irish people for Britains equally awful historical involvement with this country. We gladly accepted it with good grace, recognising that the past is indeed the past.

What demeans both the tacit apology of Queen Elizabeth and the forgiveness of those so badly affected by the unionist regime in the late 1960s/early 1970s and beyond, which gave rise to the civil rights movement, is this “me too” childishness of unionists who insist that someone must apologise to them.

So let me clear it up for unionists:

1. There is no equality of historically appalling behaviour as between unionist treatment of nationalists in Northern Ireland and the Irish State’s history.

2. One cannot absolve themselves of their history by demanding an apology from somebody, anybody, else. The best thing that the unionist tradition can do is be apologetic for its past, move past it and hope for a prouder future.

– Is mise, PHILIP FLYNN, [Former vice-President of Sinn Fein and chairman of Bank of Scotland (Ireland)] Mount Brown, Dublin 8.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London