“They have no connection with Sinn Fein; we are moving forward…”

This snippet from yesterday’s Liveline (fourth one down) is a tribute to the skill of Joe Duffy’s subtle handling of a very difficult and traumatic interview (BBC have a transcript here). Not least, is the silence at 50 minutes. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but Anne Travers controlled testimony of the day her sister Mary and father the resident Magistrate Tom, and mother Joan were shot outside St Brigid’s church on Derryvolgie.

Fair play to Pat Cusick of Cavan Sinn Fein for ringing in and putting himself in the line of fire, but it’s the qualitative nature of that interaction that speaks to one of the ongoing problems of selectively ignoring the past…

It’s socially awkward, and the media seems to want to do anything but go there (no doubt because of the fear of unlocking politically dangerous skeletons from the cupboard). But the loss of perspective on the present that results means that these (profoundly unpolitical) victims have become a forgotten people, like so many ghosts travelling largely unacknowledged in our midst.

As John Dunlop has warned us, “It would be callous for a community to travel into the future and leave grieving people behind.” The future is where all our hopes lie. It’s what makes this tedious peace more bearable than our dramatic (often dramatised) past. And, as Anne Travers tells Duffy, we are all of us who went through those days traumatised to one degree or another. Even, I suspect, her sister’s killers.

As Pete noted some time ago here on Slugger, Michael Longley is the man for these particular moments:

On the one hand, I’m interested in how we avoid tearing one another to pieces. Peace is not that, peace is the absence of that, peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization. Civilization is custom and manners and ceremony, the things that Yeats says in “A Prayer for My Daughter.” We have a vocabulary of how to deal with one another and how to behave, a vocabulary of behavior, as well as things to say to one another . . . and out of that come laws and agreed ways of doing things . . . and that in daily life are a bit like form in poetry.

It is, as Gladys has argued, important we remember and talk about the past. That should not gainsay the great progress made by this society over the last 15 years. But some things (like learning to be human again) are as at least as important as the canny pragmatism of post peace process politics.

Now, I do recommend you find somewhere to go and listen to that segment of Joe Duffy’s programme.

  • The Word

    These events will have no connection with Sinn Fein when the party discontinues the employment of those who carried out these events.

  • Obelisk

    In other words, when theyve all died or retired.

    That could be decades, meaning this will be with us for some time yet.

  • joeCanuck

    That’s nonsensical. the word. Guilt, either criminal or religious, is not so easily expunged.

  • The Word

    Until Sinn Fein, and other participants in the conflict, send out the clear signal that they have understood the lessons of violence, its failure to unite and its potential for perpetual division on this island, then they are in effect sending out coded messages to these rogue republicans that some violence works when we are in a situation where violence has always proven not only to be wrong but counterproductive in terms of advancing any political position.

    We are at a time when those signals being sent out need to be understood. But butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Violence threatens all society and that has always been the case. It serves only those who make profit from it in their attempts to build empires, and most to blame has been the willing soldier who in his ego being massaged by his superiors is prepared to threaten even Christ himself.

  • New Yorker

    Thank you for bringing this Liveline to our attention. It should be listened to in its entirety. Anne Travers speaks powerfully. Why don’t SF apologize? She wants them to say ‘We are sorry. It was wrong.’ Murder is always wrong. Until the apology and acknowledgement is made, there is an open sore.

    Many good things are said by Anne Travers and others, such as SF are not doing enough in the Ronan Kerr murder investigation, until the ‘dissidents’ are thoroughly dealt with Catholic PSNI officers especially will always be apprehensive, the parellelism between PIRA murders and ‘dissident’ murders will not go away. The sooner Ronan Kerr’s murderers are tracked down and put on trial, the better for everyone.

  • Henry94

    Perhaps a joint statement from all the parties to the conflict would make an impact. All I see otherwise is people taking an opportunity to set up more hoops for Sinn Fein to jump through. The war was wrong but it was wrong from the loyalists and the British state as much as from republicans.

    If they all sat down and agreed that they had wasted time and lives trying to win a military victory rather than talking, that would be something very powerful. But just expecting Sinn Fein to do it is just the same old story. Would it be enough for anyone if they did? I think we all know that it would not. Next week it would be another demand. Will Unionist be apologising for brining down Sunningdale? For the way they ruled when they were allowed rule alone?

    It is annoying to see the murder of a young policeman being used to feed tired old agendas.

  • Lionel Hutz

    “Perhaps a joint statement from all the parties to the conflict would make an impact. All I see otherwise is people taking an opportunity to set up more hoops for Sinn Fein to jump through. The war was wrong but it was wrong from the loyalists and the British state as much as from republicans.

    If they all sat down and agreed that they had wasted time and lives trying to win a military victory rather than talking, that would be something very powerful. But just expecting Sinn Fein to do it is just the same old story. Would it be enough for anyone if they did? I think we all know that it would not. Next week it would be another demand. Will Unionist be apologising for brining down Sunningdale? For the way they ruled when they were allowed rule alone?

    It is annoying to see the murder of a young policeman being used to feed tired old agendas.”

    It’ll never be enough for all unionists but thats not the point. Sinn Fein have to apologize for the violence or atleast make it clear that it was wrong. The importance is to send a message to the community that the people who know the consequences of paramilitary violence more than anyone can say it was wrong. I think this is an battle for the heart and soul of those republican communities that gave birth to both the Provos and now the dissidents.

  • The Word

    Where is the justification for the violence? Who was served by it? It is clear now that only what may be termed the perverse values of the devious merchant, selling the flag and the nation as goals in the absence of meaningful goals because in his “prosperity” he no longer understands happiness and sees others as an opportunity, and the Marxist activist, defining material well-being as a cause worth killing for because in some contortion of reality he sees the prosperous people he invariably belongs to as in a certain sense “evil”, were advanced. The Marxist argument then becomes a desire to rid the world of the “evil” people by using evil to make the poor people the new “evil” people. Thus there is a complete and total betrayal of the poor, their values and their morals central to their superior happiness.

    I’m only concentrating on Sinn Fein violent perpetrators because they suggest in the use of former IRA perrsonnel that these people succeeded in something that simply is unsupported in argument. Politics is contaminated as a result. They may have to take a big hit soon, and I’m not going to be blamed as I have told them from my earliest comments in these sites that it achieved nothing. But they clearly think it did.

  • Lionel Hutz

    They dont have to agree that it achieved nothing as that is an argument with no answer. They just have to say it was wrong. That even if they believe it forced political change, that it wasn’t worth it. That the political route, even if they belive that it would have taken longer, would have been better.

  • grandimarkey

    Would Sinn Fein saying that the IRA’s activities during the troubles were wrong practically do anything to stop the dissidents?

  • Lionel Hutz

    not the current bunch, they are set in their ways. But it will help to stop them grow

  • Alias

    “Would Sinn Fein saying that the IRA’s activities during the troubles were wrong practically do anything to stop the dissidents?”

    No, but it would serve to make the Shinners look a tad stupid and give them no defence to the look, given it took them decades to catch on.

    Perhaps they should say, “We’re sorry for all the murders and detached limbs, etc, but we made tens of millions out of it and most of us now have prestigious jobs administrating British rule so we’re not as stupid as we look.”

  • Alias

    Incidentally, more than half of Shinner MLAs have criminal convictions so their vile history doesn’t matter to their voters.

  • Mick Fealty

    Hands up who actually listened to the podcast? “The Word” Joe, I am looking at you two. Henry is quite correct that people are isolating SF for yet another pointless kicking.

    Itis about victims and about the unacknowledged nature of the past. Yesterday a guy came on who came to Mary’s funeral, who two days later lost his own mother in a revenge attack for Mary by loyalists.

    Such was the twisted logic of the troubles. Another person also speaking for the first time made the point that victims kept quiet for fear of bringing more trouble to their door.

    That’s what makes this first time testimony so powerful.

  • Mick Fealty

    USA,

    I don’t recall Anne saying SF had not done enough (with regard to Const Kerr). She said she would like to hear if Mr McGuinness still stood by his statement to the Telegraph in 1984. It is really unhelpful for people to pt such radical spin on such primary material.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    There were very many actions carried out by Republicans during the conflict that in retrospect are hard to defend and on occasion are not even worth the effort.

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    Henry94: ‘Will Unionist be apologising for brining down Sunningdale?’

    Worth remembering that the provos were no more keen on Sunningdale than hardline Unionism…

  • Mick Fealty

    Pat,

    Politically that’s probably right. But in fact the only politics that interest me in this story are the politics of ‘terror’.

    I’m pretty certain that IRA unit set out to kill the father, but letting the father know they would also kill his family if they could get the chance, would have been seen as useful to them.

    In the case of Tom Travers, it was of little use to them. He saw out the rest of his days as a resident magistrate. How many other Catholics it froze out of the senior ranks of the judiciary I cannot say.

    During the troubles victims kept silence for fear of reprisals, now they expected to stay silent for the sake of the current settlement.

  • New Yorker

    Mick Fealty

    If USA refers to New Yorker, in the fourth comment above I wrote, “Many good things are said by Anne Travers and others”. You wrote, “I don’t recall Anne saying SF had not done enough (with regard to Const Kerr). Anne did not say it but “others” did, two fellows on before Anne, as I recall. I believe what I wrote is correct and not spin. Do you agree?

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Mick,

    politically it may be so, but also on a number of other levels. It is incumbent on republicans to defend their actions but also to recognise that even by the standards of the time a lot went on that should never have even been considered.
    Also, I don’t subscribe to the reprisals aspect of people remaining silent. Suffice to say no one should feel compelled to remain silent because of any political settlement.

  • Mick Fealty

    New Yorker,

    My apologies. My point is that you need to be more careful with how you handle primary evidence. Ms Travers’ evidence was powerful precisely because it refrained from cheap politicking on the matter.

    Pat,

    No one should expect the party to abandon or disown its past. That’s a job for its opponents, should they wish to take it on.

    But the point Longley makes above is that peace is more than the absence of war. It’s acquiring the skills to speak like human beings, and treat each other with civil decency.

    That’s particularly tough for Sinn Fein when so many former provisionals escaped the rigours of the law at the time. Speaking the full and open truth now (or even in the future) has so many unbearable consequences, that in all realistic terms it cannot happen.

    It is also why your suggestion that intimidation is not a credible factor in the silence of witnesses/victims is nonsensical.

    However, to return to the current circumstances, in the precise shadow of that earlier campaign, another one has grown. Realistically, it has little chance of success. Even if the Easter Rising similarly had no chance of success, there is little of that wider sense of Catholic grievance the Provisionals were able to exploit in the 70s and 80s from which to grow a popular campaign.

    Ironically, the kind of solidarity shown by McGuinness and Adams along with all the other major leaders on these islands, is the most credible answer to all of this. The point I’ve tried to make with the Longley quote is not to question the substance of their response, but its quality.

  • chrisbrowne28

    I don’t mean to promote my blog through this forum – however my thoughts are contained in my latest entry at http://backonthecorneragain.wordpress.com/.

    I don’t think there is enough space here.

    Thanks

  • Mick Fealty

    PS

    Pat, these were the standards of the time, as is proven by the IRA’s further attempts to kill the magistrate.

    But as should also be obvious from this story, it was not just the IRA who were dragging those standards ever downwards.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Mick,

    as time passes more and more information on a host of events is now starting to emerge. This is occurring for a host of differing reasons but it is emerging nonetheless.

    It will be (and is) difficult for public figures to admit to what they were involved with. In that respect a general acknowledgement of what occurred may be the best that is available to victims.
    While not privy to the experience of every single victim I still doubt if intimidation had that big an influence on them. I would argue isolation and a general ignoring of their plight would have had a deeper impact.
    I would not argue the point on witnesses to events as it was not a part of the original debate.

    There is no need for republicans to sit and wait for tribunals etc when confronted with past deeds. It is indeed a measure of the quality of their bona fides on how they deal with such questions. Where answers or achowledgements are sought they should be provided.

    The danger of course is that republicans become the sole focus of the debate while others simply remian silent. There is also the likelihood that in attempts to deal with certain events the response becomes stock and repetitive.

  • Mick Fealty

    Should being the operative word there Pat. It doesn’t happen for the reasons you outline above. And you are right about judgement over the quality of the response.

    Pat Cusick’s most honest response was his stunned silence. It wasn’t great in terms of how the party normally likes to come across, but it at least demonstrated a degree of human honesty that all the prepacked, generalised platitudes (we usually get dished up on such occasions) can never serve.

    Given there are some intractable realities around the current settlement, it is important that victims get to talk and share their experiences. We had one small example of that on Duffy yesterday.

    And it is also important that they are not patronised in the process… From the politicians point of view it’s as much about re-learning manners, customs and custom as it is about the nature politics itself…

  • Eglise en bois

    Clearly the current differentiation between victims pre and post 1998 is heart rending for many. To watch the justifiable coverage of the death and reaction to Ronan Kerr’s murder only exacerbates the pain of those whose loved ones didn’t even warrant a front page headline.

    The rightful condemnation of the death of Const Kerr by SF clearly begs the question how can this one be wrong and the others right? In truth the ambiguity may feed the warped logic of the current dissidents.

    Handling the past and facing up to that particular, unending pain remains our greatest challenge, not misusing current tragedies for political ends comes a close second and consistency in approach must inform the debate.

    Wold it be too much to agree, that the current ambiguity about the rights and wrongs of the past, when facing up to the reality of the present, only serves to inflict greater pain on those who suffered?

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    I’ve just taken the time to listen in full to this interview, something which everyone with an interest in Irish politics should do.

    Firstly I applaud Joe Duffy and the Liveline team for giving callers the time and space to air their views. So many call-in shows cut contributors dead in the interests of advertisers or time constraints, but ample time was given to all callers. In the cases of Anne Travers and Pat Cusick, the effect of this was devestating.

    It isn’t often that an innocent victim is given this type of space to put forward every aspect of their loved one’s murder. The sheer ‘normality’ of Anne Traver’s words — her lament for her sister, shot in the back by a man never brought to justice, her heartbreak at the simple things like never being able to go shopping with her only sister, her constant fear afterwards that she could be targetted as well…this was intensely moving testimony.

    Contrast this with Martin McGuinness words at the time, that her sister’s death was ‘regrettable’ but understandable as her father was a member of the British judiciary. Anne’s heartfelt words juxtaposed with Martin’s almost unimaginable hatred and callousness.

    Then we had Pat Cusick, blundering onto the show like a typical SF automaton, intent on condemning Ronan Kerr’s murder, and no doubt hoping to retreat gracefully. Joe handled the encounter skillfully, allowing Anne to probe then openly attack the hypocrisy of a man and an organisation who condemn a 2011 murder but can’t do the same for a 1984 one, a murder commited by members of SFs military wing in exactly the same spirit of hatred and pointless sadism that drove the Omagh killers last Saturday.

    Cusick’s stunned silence was perhaps the most poignant and affecting radio I’ve ever heard, perhaps the ultimate statement on where SF are today as they ask for your vote to put them in power in Ireland.

    Yesterday I drove along the airport road past Glenavy. Mitchell McLaughlin was grinning from several lamposts. A man who publicly declared Jean McConville’s murder ‘wrong but not a crime.’

    How can we begin to understand this depth of hatred and lack of empathy, of basic humanity?

  • joeCanuck

    Mick,

    I remember that day with particular sadness. I lived for a time on Derryvolgie avenue and I attended St. Brigid’s until my final break with religion. In fact my first marriage took place there.

  • Henry94

    There’s an arrest in the Kerr case.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-12989762

  • Alias

    Grief is intensely private by its nature so it doesn’t lend itself to political campaigns. It might be different when the death is the result of an accident or a murder that no one tries to justify and the bereaved party might engage in some non-political campaign aimed at preventing similiar occurences, but I can’t imagine that many of those murdered by the Shinners would feel that any gain from a political campaign would be of any consequence that could outweigh the compounding of their loss by listening to apologists attempting to justfy it. That might be why so few of them speak about it. Those that do mainly do so to seek justice and not for any other purpose. Indeed, there isn’t any other worthwhile purpose.

  • I’ve not met Anne since she was part of our group as a sixth-former around 1985; it’s hard to believe that she is now almost the same age as I was way back then. I’ve had a look back at some of the photos she appears in and I’ve transcribed a few of her comments from the podcast; I hope the transcription is accurate:

    “”How ironic, [Mary] was 23, [Ronan] was 25. Nothing has changed. My sister has died. Thank goodness we’ve got a kind of peace process where less people are being murdered. I’m delighted that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have come out and condemned this young man’s murder but they never once said sorry for my sister’s murder; they’ve never once apologised to my mum; in fact, they condoned it, Martin McGuinness condoned it.”

    Perhaps those who talk of ‘moving forward’ should stop and reflect for a moment about the impact these simple words might have on those who have suffered heartbreak and devastation. Life may go on but so too do the nightmares:

    “Any one of us who has been affected by the Troubles in the North, we all have post-traumatic”.

  • Chris Donnelly

    But the point Longley makes above is that peace is more than the absence of war. It’s acquiring the skills to speak like human beings, and treat each other with civil decency.

    That’s particularly tough for Sinn Fein when so many former provisionals escaped the rigours of the law at the time. Speaking the full and open truth now (or even in the future) has so many unbearable consequences, that in all realistic terms it cannot happen.

    Mick
    What is a nonsense is to suggest this is particularly tough for Sinn Fein.

    That suggests you have difficulty looking through a prism not defined by your own prejudices and consistent with your chosen narrative.

    Unionist/ Loyalist spokespersons- not to mention British Ministers- have a similar difficulty distancing themselves from the actions of the combatants they identify with. Thus is the nature of war.

    That may well be a problem facing many, but denying it and suggesting republicans have a particular problem above and beyond other former combatants is essentially dishonest.

  • Mick Fealty

    That would be dishonest Chris, but I’ve not suggested that Sinn Fein *alone* have this problem. See my first post to this thread:

    “Henry is quite correct that people are isolating SF for yet another pointless kicking.

    “It is about victims and about the unacknowledged nature of the past. Yesterday a guy came on who came to Mary’s funeral, who two days later lost his own mother in a revenge attack for Mary by loyalists.

    “Such was the twisted logic of the troubles.”

    That guy whose mother the loyalist shot ‘in revenge’ came to Mary’s funeral because his kids attended her school in A’town. This was lunacy. And one the IRA of that time shared and co-bred with Loyalist paramilitaries and some branches of the state’s forces.

    Most of the time the traumatic doesn’t raise its ugly head, because people are only too pleased that that phase of their political development is long over.

    Loyalist spokespersons certainly do have that problem. Though they pay a more obvious penalty at the ballot box for that past association.

    Anne Travers intervention on this matter was timely, decent and proportionate. In short, it deserves a similarly natured response. But we both know that that’s not going to happen.

    The deal is in, and we should all be happy that it has delivered a peace many of my generation convinced ourselves we’d never see.

    But in the longer run mouthing platitudes is not a decent or mannerly way of dealing with such victims of our bloody past.

    I don’t expect SF to prostrate itself in front of IRA victims. But neither can I offer any trite formulae prescribing how they should be dealt with.

    Human decency (and the ‘peace’ it gives rise to) is its own reward…

  • Mick Fealty

    As an addendum, I suggested it was particularly tough for the reasons Pat acknowledges above.

    Given, for instance, the conviction of Gerry McGeough for an attempted murder back in 1981, they are constrained by pragmatic concerns in what they can and cannot disclose about the events of 1984 (or even 1974 for that matter).

  • Chris Donnelly

    Anne Travers’ intervention was extremely moving and is a cry from the past which will strike a chord with many others.

    That can’t be denied, nor should it be.

    Mouthing platitudes is often the last resort of the inarticulate. Others can call on a greater vocabulary to essentially say the same thing.

    That might comfort some, but it’s qualitatively indecipherable.

    And it’s in this context that the sometimes hopelessly inappropriate pronouncements of some political figures must be judged against pronouncements from (for eg) David Cameron which have amounted to the same thing, namely apologising for ‘innocents’ caught up in the conflict whilst holding short of doing likewise for others deemed as combatants as so doing would be to concede the validity of the campaign on either side.

    Oh, and btw, let’s not attempt to restrict the culpability for the past on the Orange side to those merely actively engaged in conflict from the paramilitary quarters.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a way bigger political point than I was trying to make Chris.

    As I’ve said before, I don’t know how you resolve a problem that mostly – in the public square at least – is no longer a directly political problem but rather one of manners and decorum (specifically, the lack of them).

    I think there’s an oblique reference to the crux of Longley’s argument (such as it is) in the last three stanzas of the Yeats poem (‘A Prayer For My Daughter’) I’ve linked above:

    “An intellectual hatred is the worst,
    So let her think opinions are accursed.
    Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
    Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
    Because of her opinionated mind
    Barter that horn and every good
    By quiet natures understood
    For an old bellows full of angry wind?

    “Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
    The soul recovers radical innocence
    And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
    Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
    And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
    She can, though every face should scowl
    And every windy quarter howl
    Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

    “And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
    Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
    For arrogance and hatred are the wares
    Peddled in the thoroughfares.
    How but in custom and in ceremony
    Are innocence and beauty born?”

  • Here’s a little bit more from the JD/AT conversation:

    JD: ‘Things happened that should never have happened.’ Did that help?

    AT: No! I still don’t have Mary; no, it doesn’t help one little bit.

    JD: Are you saying that the same logic that applied to the murder of your sister and the attempted murder of your father and your mother applied on Saturday?

    AT: Absolutely! They don’t care; they don’t have any. They have so much in their head. That they’re these big freedom fighters – it’s like a warped kind of view. It’s very difficult some times to watch Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – and Peter Robinson as well. It’s hard to watch all of these men who are now in positions of responsibility but perhaps they’ve just grown up. .. I don’t know ..

    Misguided logic that they [Ronan’s killers] think that they’re under but all they’ve done is cause a huge heartbreak to his family. My heart just goes out to them”

  • Mick Fealty

    There’s also a section in there where she accepts that things have changed Nev. And how she welcomes the change of attitude.

    Would it be too much to ask for you to dig that out for us?

  • Mick, do Anne’s words in my post further up of 6 April 2011 at 7:22 pm not cover that welcome?

    That post also mentions the first time I met Anne. Amongst our sixth-form entertainers that night – if my memory is accurate – were a future winner of the Irish Young Citizen award, the future sister-in-law of a future SDLP minister and the daughter of a recently deselected Sinn Fein councillor.

  • Anne addressed some other words to Sinn Fein but they have a much wider relevance; they should IMO also be borne in mind by the media, old and new:

    “They have to remember that we’re human beings with emotions, with feelings, and every time, nearly every time they speak it reminds us of stuff that they didn’t say or do when our loved ones were killed or murdered.”

    Perhaps someone will do a full transcript of the exchange that Anne participated in; I suspect a wordle would highlight ‘sorry’.

  • Anne isn’t calling for the prosecution of those who directly or indirectly took her sister Mary’s life and devastated the lives of the Travers family – a meaningful sorry would suffice in so far as it might help alleviate some of the burden of grief – ‘it is just so hard and I can’t understand if people don’t understand how hard it is for the victims and families who have been affected by the Troubles and they won’t say sorry’.

  • Wendy Austin – Talkback today May 25:

    “Ann Travers on the woman convicted of her sister’s murder becoming a Stormont political adviser”

    Jim Allister’s website has some comments to make about Mary McArdle’s appointment.

  • I’ve just listened to Wendy Austin’s conversation with Ann Travers on Radio Ulster’s Talkback. The appointment of McArdle would appear to be another calculated insult to the victims of the Troubles. It also poses serious questions about the power relationships between Ministers and their senior civil servants.