The News Letter yesterday had an article quoting (and interviewing Ian Bothwell of the Crossfire Trust in Darkley). He suggests that some Republicans he has spoken to are “seeking forgiveness for their past.”
He says he knows several former IRA members who would like closure on the deeds they have committed in the past.
“We are talking about a number of republicans who have engaged in front-line activity,” he told the News Letter.
“They would like closure. They would like to deal with the torment in their minds and I think they would like to have a framework which would allow them to feel safe in doing so.
“This really needs to be openly and purposely supported by churches and political leaders across the board. I think some people really feel bad and do regret the past.
“They are maybe sorry for the pain they have caused, yet not sorry for having felt they had to do it.
“They are on a journey and if they were to see the appropriate response coming from across the other side of the community at the same time, then I think we could be amazed at how far we could get at forgiving and letting go.
“I think we could be amazed at the area of common ground we could find in pursuit of lasting deep peace and wholeness.”
“People have expressed these feelings to me,” he said.
“We are talking about a number of people from Keady down to Crossmaglen, ranging from their forties to older. These people are seeking forgiveness for their past actions.”
But is there an inner conflict in the minds of people who are tormented by their past deeds and yet may still feel there was justification for their actions?
“That is the hub of the issue,” Ian says. “There are days when they will see it one way and days they will see it another. That is a reflection of the journey they are on. That is the dilemma for those of us trying to get a handle on the past.
The problem with this seems to be that it is almost exclusively from the terrorists themselves. They want “closure”; they want “to deal with the torment in their minds” and “They are maybe sorry for the pain they have caused, yet not sorry for having felt they had to do it.”Therein lies the problem. The process they want is perpetrator focused: victims and their relatives need to help the terrorists “move on”, have “closure” etc. Mike Nesbitt the former Victims’ Commissioner was highly sceptical about the issue in today’s News Letter:
“This is not a criticism of Ian Bothwell and his Crossfire Trust charity, but the fact is that there is a simple remedy – they should present themselves at the nearest PSNI station,” Mr Nesbitt said in a UUP statement.
“These people are seeking help to overcome their feeling of guilt for past actions but I would need to be persuaded about any sort of truth process. Until those who shout loudest for ‘truth’ agree to come clean about their own past we should not be doing anything.”
In particular, he cited scepticism of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his assertions that he was never in the IRA, despite the fact that he had engaged in talks with the Government about IRA matters in the early 1970s.
This position would certainly chime with that of any victims I know. Some victims do not want prosecutions but many do. They may know that the terrorists would only get derisory sentences considering their crimes. They also know that it is perfectly clear that many terrorists are not going to be pursued for the supposed greater good: justice having been totally disregarded for political motives. The formal proclamation of an amnesty whether as part of a “Truth (quarter truth) Process” or otherwise would simply be a further insult to them and the memories of their loved ones. The idea that they the victims might be expected to help the murderers feel better about their actions is likely to be an even greater insult.
At a religious level all brands of Christianity here believe that the terrorists can receive forgiveness from God but most / many would suggest that they need to accept the wrongness of their actions and quite possibly accept the earthly consequences of those deeds (imprisonment).
Nesbitt raises an even more serious problem than the insult to surviving relatives of the proposed plan. Again from the News Letter:
In his statement, he said that as a victims’ commissioner, he had the “horrific” experience of hearing about a would-be perpetrator who approached his intended victim to confess that he had targeted him decades ago.
Mr Nesbitt said: “The two men had been at school together, and the victim only survived because he happened to be standing chatting at a street corner under a bright light when the perpetrator approached.
“The gunman waited, but the weight of the weapon in his pocket finally forced him to panic and he ran away. Twenty years on, he approached his victim and confessed.”
But while the gunman found some comfort from his confession, his intended target had nightmares.
“We cannot allow any displacement of emotion,” Mr Nesbitt said. If former terrorists are feeling guilt because their hands are blood-stained for the rest of her life, then that is simply “a reflection of the human condition, and the inhumanity of their actions. Their only recourse is the rule of law”.