David Latimer backs Sinn Fein position (again)

David Latimer is back in the news again. The minister of First Derry Presbyterian Church who previously went to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis and told us that Martin McGuinness was “one of the true great leaders of modern times” and that we were all guilty for the Troubles is back again. This time he was responding to Declan Kearney’s comments about republicans thinking about reconciliation. When Kearney first made the comments unionists comprehensively rejected Kearney’s comments as partial and self serving: Jeffrey Donaldson said unionists saw his statement as “a hollow publicity stunt” and Mike Nesbitt was highly sceptical pointing out that such conversations and even apologies could be extremely counter productive outside the framework of due legal process.

Latimer on the other hand has hailed Kearney’s comments and has issued a statement
describing it as “both helpful and hopeful” and asked for unionists and nationalists to begin the “uncomfortable conversations”.

His statement also says:

“We have done dark and dreadful things to each other. To our collective shame we have done unspeakable things to each other. Understandably, one side might want to blame the other side, but no one can confidently point a finger of blame towards ‘the other’ because the unavoidable reality is, we have all done wrong. No one can say his heart is altogether pure, nor can anyone say his hands are altogether clean.”

We are back to exactly the same answer to the “We are all guilty brigade”.

David Latimer may have done “dark and dreadful things” (though I doubt it): if he has he should go to the police, confess his crimes, pay the legal penalty and also ask forgiveness both of those whom he has wronged (and indeed being a Christian he should ask the forgiveness of God). In contrast, I in common with the vast majority of people have done no dark and dreadful things to other people, either during the Troubles or at any other time. Some others may have helped the terrorists in word or deed but again the vast majority of us simply did not nor did we have any remotely useful information to give to the police.

Latimer goes on to suggest “one side might want to blame the other side” but again this is nonsense. Unionists cannot collectively blame nationalists nor should they want to or vice versa. The terrorists and a few others did indeed do “dark and dreadful things” (most of us call them serious crimes) but most people here did not. Latimer in common with many “peace processors” seems in a Northern Ireland context very fond of the concept of collective guilt: a concept rejected in practically all religious and secular moralities.

Some more subtle proponents of this credo do try to call it collective responsibility but again this is utterly flawed. The vast majority of people here during the Troubles did nothing wrong and bear no responsibility for the vile crimes of the Troubles: they opposed the murders, they voted against the parties which represented the murderers; at times they attended peace marches etc. but all that was shown to have absolutely no effect on the men of violence. The fact that the murderers carried on murdering is not the fault of those who had no part in the crimes. Supporting the union or a united Ireland and peacefully advocating that (or just getting on with one’s life) has no moral, ethical or any other demerits attached to it whatsoever.

The only thing which might have induced the terrorists to stop sooner would have been to give in to their demands and allow them to create the ethnically cleansed, effectively national socialist, gangster state utopia they wanted (on both sides). Indeed we the decent people of Northern Ireland are guilty of opposing that and stopping them from dragging us all into the mire of the mini sectarian apocalypse the terrorists wanted. If Mr. Latimer thinks we need to say sorry for that his moral compass is utterly deranged. The Attorney General John Larkin has made this point very well:

The question is sometimes asked why Northern Ireland did not end up like Bosnia and the answer is in part to be found in the decency and humanity exemplified in the behaviour of the Protestant workmen killed at Kingsmills whose first actions were to protect their Catholic colleague from what they thought was a sectarian attack directed against him.

The reality is that very few people have anything to say sorry for and absolutely no need to engage in “uncomfortable conversations” apart from the terrorists who should indeed have those conversations with the police if they truly want to demonstrate sorrow. For them in this context words without actions are meaningless.

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  • Mick Fealty

    Far be it from me to get too dark and dire in my warnings, but as long as this stays away from attacking character, then I (nor should anyone else) have a problem with such a critical outlook…

    I would take issue with the idea that Rev Latimer is backing the SF position.. Welcoming it is not the same as backing it… Not least since it still remains an intention to move more than a position as such…

  • Briso

    “unionists comprehensively rejected Kearney’s comments as partial and self serving”

    Not all of them.


  • Mick Fealty

    Welcome back Briso!! long time no see..

  • Mark

    Totally agree with AG … Latimer is a religious leader and as such would use language like the above as a way of trying to reach certain sections of both communities .

    The guy is making an effort to bulid bridges and yet he still gets mocked .

    Mick , if you wouldn’t mind after you’ve walked your dog to answer why you’d have a problem with the Rev backing SF’s position .

  • Mick Fealty


    Your post was accidentally clipped… for which please accept my profound apologies…


    I don’t have a problem with it… I was just pointing out to Turgon that he was not actually taking a position…

  • Mark

    Mick ,

    Cheers , sometimes us laymen sometimes have difficulty with the political jargon .

  • Greenflag

    The Rev Latimer is correct . He’s the real Christian in this case .

    While all are guilty it can also be said in fairness that some are more guilty than others . Most of the guilt is that of omission and silence and doesn’t stop at the border or even this side of the Irish Sea .

    For decades there was a deafening silence as to the nature of the Unionist State and it’s one party quasi fascist tyranny of the majority over a substantial minority . This is now accepted historical fact borne out by numerous official reports and investigations .

    In the Republic there was also a ‘deafening silence ‘ for almost 50 years as regards the then situation facing Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland . There was an even more deafening silence as regards the corruption and criminal scandals prevalent in the RC Church and it’s institutions in the period from the foundation of the State to very recently and even now we listen to more revelations of the extent of political corruption from the Mahon Tribunal.

    We are ALL only to glad or happy to remain silent when we are all right jack .Don’t rock the boat -don’t bite the hand that feeds you – don’t make a fuss – you could be worse off etc etc . Too ready to doff the cap at the politician or churchman and not to speak out against patent injustice , discrimination or state or terrorist violence . And that’ s why Unionist politicians got away with their malgovernance in NI 1920-1972, until HMG was forced into suspension and ditto for the situation in the Republic facing the RC Church and it’s politicians in recent years.

    The Rev Latimer’s words should be taken in the overall rather than just in the local NI context . NI has moved on -Even if there are still issues there is at least a state framework which upholds the common values of people on all of these islands .And it’s a start .

    Accepting some guilt for what was allowed to transpire or for actions or attitudes or behaviours which have caused pain or worse to others in the past or present is not a ‘mortaler’ or an admission that one is hell bound 😉 It’s a beginning of an awareness that people (all people ) are human -they all err at some time or other but that we have to speak out and NOT remain silent when ‘injustice ‘ be it politically or financially or racial/ethnic or religiously motivated is foisted on any individual or group within our wider society .

    Unlearning is more difficult than ‘learning ‘ or as the man said –

    ‘It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you-it’s the what you know that ain’t so ‘

    In Ireland ‘North and South ‘ it could be said that we have had too many at the top of our societies who KNEW what was’nt so but kept their eyes averted their mouths closed and their ears waxed full 🙁

    Congrats to Rev Latimer for speaking out and to Mr Kearney. .

  • The distrust that Sinn Féin must seek to overcome – which is often inexplicable even to the majority of those who hold it – was not caused but reinforced by the recent 30-odd years of conflict. .. David Adams

    It appears that Adams is wishing the SF mountain-climbers well even if most of them don’t appreciate they’re climbing a mountain. Whether there’ll be many others waiting to join them at the top is another matter.

    He said long before talks on the achievability of a united Ireland and prior to attempts to persuade anyone of its desirability, there will be a requirement for the two communities to build trust “by addressing other issues that for the Protestant, unionist, loyalist family are perceived to be pre-eminent”. .. David Latimer

    At present, it would seem that Latimer prefers to smoke a peace-pipe at base camp.

  • glenda lough

    I confess to every negative thing that has ever happened to our Island before and after I was born including the various Ice Ages (which arguably weren’t negative in that we have lovely scenery as a result tho’ they were probably a bit traumatic at the time). And Daniel O’Donnell.

  • JR

    The fundamental flaw in your logic Turgon is that the only crime is violent crime.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Wow Latimer has really put it up to Steve Stockman with this one. Where can Steve go?

    Claim Pol Pot was an Ulster Prod? That Stalin supported Northern Ireland’s position within the UK?

    Who knows, but I for one await Steve’s next play to try to again nose ahead of Latimer to win the accolade ‘Sorriest Prod….Ever’.

  • JoeBryce

    My ancestors, and I’m pretty sure Turgon’s, 100 years ago this year dedicated themselves with bloodcurdling threats and imported German arms to oppose the will of the majority of the electorate in Ireland (and Britain) for Home Rule. Even our beloved Ulster was partitioned in recognition of the seriousness of the threat we made, as well as, more honourably, of the scale of the sacrifice on the Somme. At the time of partition, only 4 of Ulster’s 9 counties favoured partition; probably now it is only two.

    Now, as to WHY our ancestors did those things, much of the answer lies with the insensitivity of nationalism at the time and the pride and ambition of the church. And the belated PIRA response, of brutal ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate violence against civilians, was worse than a crime, it was a folly, for all the damage it did to the cause of Irish unity. Maybe that damage will never be mended, and the GFA allows for the status quo indefinitely (in effect). I really do think that if Irish nationalism had behaved as Scottish nationalism has, it would now be placed where Scottish nationalism is.

    But speaking only for myself, and with an ancestry I am very proud of, I do not see that the story need or even should end here. And I think an important part of getting where we might ideally want to be, rather than always avoiding where we fear to be, is in admitting our tradition’s contribution to our violent past. In short, the history of Ulster unionism does not permit its inheritors, which include me, to deny our tradition’s role in the breakdown of democracy. This, I think, is what Latimer is trying to say; and I think in saying it he simply speaks plain historical truth.

  • Alias

    “He’s the real Christian in this case .”

    This contravenes your usual custom of dismissing Christian values and their social and political influence in your secular world. It’s true that he is the real Chistian here, since the doctrines of collective responsibility and collective guilt are recurring themes in the Old Testament. Collective guilt is, of course, illegal under international law wherein it is held that collectives cannot commit crimes and therefore cannot be punished for them. I prefer the secular value there…

  • Turgon

    “seriousness of the threat we made”

    There is the point. You (and we) did not make the threat. You can note the problem, you can analyse and debate it. However, your apology for the actions of your ancestors is of little or no value. You cannot know what they would think now. I do not demand an apology from the children of IRA terrorists: I know no victims who do either. Indeed to apologise for others for whose actions you cannot possibly be responsible is actually a form of arrogance.

  • JoeBryce

    Thanks for your reply, Turgon, I value the dialogue. Let me reflect a day or two and I’ll get back to you with a considered response. Just one thing: I wasn’t apologising for my ancestors, you will note I said I was proud of them. It’s ideology we’re critiqueing here, I think. But I will get back to you.

  • CoisteBodhar

    There were some who held the crimes of the current mayor’s father against said mayor at a recent translink event. Or rather they stated his (un)suitability for that event as a result of his father’s IRA activity.

  • JoeBryce

    Turgon, I think the point that I wanted to make can be made fairly simply.

    We all belong to political traditions. Our political tradition introduced the threat of political violence in 1912. Had it – and, yes, we, because we belong to and perpetuate that tradition – not done so, Northern Ireland would not exist. I don’t see the philosophical alternative to extending responsibility for the actings of a tradition to those who belong to it.

    In the same way, Irish nationalism as a tradition is responsible for the denial of the separation of church and state which drove our ancestors to their actions, and republicanism as a tradition carries the can for the crimes against humanity that it perpetratred 1971 – 1994 and 1996 – 7; and insofar as all these traditions are represented in the actual living world by actual living human beings, they and we carry responsibility for what our respective traditions have done.

    But precisely because of this, we also have the opportunity to change our traditions, because for our time on Earth it is we who own them. In the years since 1994 it seems to me that people in NI, and indeed in the rest of Ireland, have taken ownership of their respective traditions, and transformed them, vastly for the better IMHO. Your philosophical stance makes people passive recipients of their traditions, not active bearers of them; that seems to me to be a counsel of despair, as well as simply not an accurate account of how things are.

    My purely personal opinion is that the problems we now face are not the same as those our ancestors faced, and that our traditions will need to change to face them. I personally think that whatever the precise constitutional models we put in place, it is inevitable – I think – that the population placed geographically within Ireland closest to Scotland will need to turn, as a whole and with less and less thought of former divisions, to its nearest neighbours for help and mutual support within a difficult European and world context. I also personally think that the unionist tradition has something to offer in terms of clearing out the gombeen stables and bearing the standard for secular governance.

    But these are perhaps footnotes to the real topic of our discussion, which is the relationship between individual and collective responsibilty within the context of political process, as to which I think I have now said what I wanted to say, and hope to hear your thoughts on it.

  • Turgon

    Mine is not a counsel of despair, far from it. I refuse to be bound by the past. I will note it but neither hold it against the next generation nor be bound to apologise for things I cannot possibly have had any responsibility for. The only point I disagree with Alias is that Christian morality (and as I read it later Jewish morality post exile etc.) rejects the concept of collective guilt. Also we should reject collective responsibility for things done by the now dead. They are in heaven, or hell or have ceased to exist depending on your religious and philosophical beliefs. We can study and learn from them but we collectively and personally are not bound to them for good or ill.

    You repeatedly talk about your ancestors. They (the ancestors) are not your property. This is a bizarre U turn of the old concept of ancestor worship. We now have ancestor atonement which is just silly.

    There is also the danger that if you somehow take responsibility for the collective or individual actions of distant ancestors you must perforce also take responsibility for the individual and collective actions of the more recent past even if you personally were not involved in them.

    That position is also rejected by the vast majority of people here. Eames Bradley, the peace processors and all their works have been rejected by the vast majority of people and by the vast majority of elected representatives. This is a democracy and the position you advance has been rejected.

    You are welcome to try to advance it but the reality is that your and the peace processors views should not gain influence. They may be the views of a self appointed moral and intellectual pseudo elite who wish to make us all descend at least part way into the gutter with the murderers but these views have been rejected. Most of us who lived through what happened here know we did nothing remotely wrong. The whining that we were all in some way responsible may help assuage the consciences of the murderers but that plan has been rejected. Leave the unrepentant or minimally repentant criminals to stew in their moral turpitude and if the likes of Eames Bradley want to join them as part of some self righteous quest that is a matter for them.

    If the criminals want to repent in either a secular or religious way I am delighted. Furthermore people should try to help them in practical ways whether they are repentant or not: I believe in neither the death penalty nor that life should mean life. However, that help does not include saying that we either participated in, created the circumstances for or approved of the actions of the criminals. We did not: the physical, practical, moral, ethical and all other facts demonstrate that. If certain individuals “feel” somehow otherwise then is a matter for them. They are welcome to that but as I said above their position has been rejected as the untruth that it is.

    Joe you and the rest of us do not need to be bound by the self serving (grant chasing) untruths and moral platitudes of the professional peace process industry. We have nothing to apologise for, atone for or take responsibility in the actions of ancestors. In our own lives regarding the Troubles those of us of all sides and none who did nothing wrong need hold our heads high regarding our views and actions here.

  • Greenflag

    @alias ,

    I don’t ‘dismiss’ Christian values at least not in respect of ‘Sermon on the Mount ‘ ‘christianity . The Old Testament ‘eye for an eye’ tenet is a primitive harkening back to behaviours that were (and still are) in some parts of the world extant, in societies which have not seen the ‘benefit ‘ of western enlightenment and /or secular law . I may dismiss belief in transubstantiation or the Rapture or the second coming or the Book of Revelations etc etc but I would hold that Christian ethics of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ variety ‘ are as good a guide to life as any .

    ‘ Collective guilt is, of course, illegal under international law wherein it is held that collectives cannot commit crimes and therefore cannot be punished for them. I prefer the secular value there…’

    So do I . To hold the formerly 13 million members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -guilty – for the crimes committed by Stalin and his
    henchmen or the millions of members of the German ‘nazis’ for the crimes committed in WW2 would have been impractical and unjust . Most of those people (just like Turgon and Bryce above or their Republican counterparts in the NI troubles 1920 -the present ) , did nothing wrong in the context of the law as it was /is. Those millions of people in the 1930’s may have believed in ‘nutty’ ideologies but then they too have their counterparts in today’s world who may seem less dangerous but who knows what the consequences of current ‘nutty ‘ belief systems in the politics and/or financial sectors may yet lead to ?

    We have a potential US President Mr Romney of the Mormon faith which has it’s own ‘nutty ‘ dead ancestor rebaptism’s and even extended this to Jewish people -without their consent – although how they could get the consent of people dead for 50 years much less 50 seconds would require a ‘faith ‘ I’m sadly deficient in !

    And then we have the debasement and corruption of democracy in the USa by the power of ‘money ‘ It’s clear that Mr Romney has the money and by virtue of the collective corporate Superpacs he can outspend his primary challengers 10 to 1 . And even they can only stay in the race by virtue of their own Superpacs . In fact Newt Gingrich would long since have had to quit his candidacy were it not for the financial support of the Las Vegas casino mogul and ‘friend of Israel ‘ a Mr Adelson .

    Democracy in the USA has degenerated to simple plutocracy and increasing numbers of people are becoming more and more aware of this ‘corruption ‘ at the heart of the system .

    Mr Romney famously uttered to one heckler that ‘Corporations ‘ are people too ! While he is legally correct most American voters in the upcoming election will believe ‘corporations are people ‘ when they read that the Great State of Texas has sentenced Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to death ‘ and not just Lloyd Blankfein or Brian Moynihan.

  • Barnshee

    “For decades there was a deafening silence as to the nature of the Unionist State and it’s one party quasi fascist tyranny of the majority over a substantial minority . This is now accepted historical fact borne out by numerous official reports and investigation”

    Shit man it was aweful –all that free education, health, social security payments, state provided housing –the poor down trodden catholic population er incresed dramatically whilst taht Nirvana, south of the dreaded border, was er avoided like the plague.

    South of the border ?

    try –“one “religion “quasi fascist tyranny of the majority over a substantial minority” of prods now effectively disappeared from the face of the earth There remains a deafening silence as to the nature of the activities in “Nirvana”

    This is NOT now “accepted historical fact borne out by numerous official reports and investigation” Why, because whenever such investigation surfaces (try GERARD Murphy’s ‘The Year Of Disappearances — Political Killings In Cork 1921-22’ )we get the usual Roman catholic republican reaction

    1 It didn`t happen — when that fails
    2 It was a long time ago— when that fails
    3 Sure they deserved anyway

    PS The state that “values all equally” currently continues to provide tax payers funds to provided Roman Catholics “first communion” clothing- —still with a “non roman catholic ” population standing at 3or 4% what else can you expect.

  • JoeBryce

    Turgon, I respectfully suggest you are deliberately evading my point.

    Barnshee, I agree. Republicanism has its own facing up to its past to perform.

  • ayeYerMa

    Indeed, the notion that Catholics were so hard done by in Northern Ireland is one of the greatest distortions of truth in recent times – a victory of mendacious Republican propaganda and a perception propagated by ignorant Nationalist politicians and agreed to by modern do-gooding Unionists who want to appear “above it all”:

    All post-partition instability in NI is due to one thing and one thing alone – a failure from London to support the Northern Ireland government (a government Unionists didn’t actually want in the first place) with the full weight of the British defense budget in order to combat insurgency and uphold the 1921 two-state Irish peace treaty. It took “the Troubles” to finally get London’s attention to use the full force of British security and intelligence to defeat Irish Republican insurgents and cement the relative peace we have today.

  • galloglaigh


    You also say republicanism has its own facing up to its past to perform: They have tried to right some wrongs, but compare that to the stance taken by current and former Special Branch/MOD/British government people. I think you’ll find the answer to who needs to face up to their past more than most!

    Could I ask your opinion on David Cameron’s apology for Bloody Sunday?

  • galloglaigh

    Sorry Turgon,

    The first part of my post is for Joe and the second for you!

  • Turgon

    No I am not evading your point. I mean this without rancour: I have no ongoing interest in your point: I simply reject it. I have pointed out the reasons why I reject it and for the meantime I will leave it at that.

    I have debated with people like you repeatedly. The longest such was with Andrew Gallagher here. I am not going to convince you nor are you going to convince me. I am sure those who support your view will find your comments more persuasive than mine and I hope those who have views like mine will feel the opposite.

    Again I say the following without rancour: I have no interest in engaging with you or further understanding your position, let alone coming to some agreed position. That has never been what I am interested in on slugger. I am here to make my point and state my views: contend for my views would probably be the best description. At the moment I am content I have done this on the issues you raise: to continue would be pointless and may well descend into us becoming angry with oneanother (or at least me with you). Now by all means continue to feel ancestor guilt or whatever you feel it is if you wish but please leave me out of it and understand that I and many other reject your concepts on this issue.

  • Turgon

    Re Bloody Sunday: I did a long (maybe too long) blog on it. I would be grateful if you read all of it as I think it is probably one of the best pieces I have ever written on slugger. Fundamentally I think the dead were killed wholly wrongly indeed murdered. Although I am not a fan of apologies in this case I think Cameron was correct. It is an event still within living memory: many relatives are still alive as are those wounded. Also Cameron has the authority to apologise as the PM of the UK.

  • Alias

    “No I am not evading your point. I mean this without rancour: I have no ongoing interest in your point: I simply reject it. I have pointed out the reasons why I reject it and for the meantime I will leave it at that.”

    I love the clarity and economy of that debating position, and it’s one I apply without explanation.

    Did someone mention blood libel and original sin as examples of collective guilt in Christianity?

  • Jo

    Your point is well made and your unprecedented acknowledgement of 1912 and all that is strikingly honest. Dont waste yr time arguing with yesterday, it never acknowledges today and is scared of tomorrow. Jo

  • Alias

    If we’re serving up babble-advice now, I’d like to throw in some words of wisdom from Joe Lewis: “You can lead a horse to water, but if you can get him to lay down on his back and float in it, then you have something.”

  • Greenflag

    ‘It took “the Troubles” to finally get London’s attention to use the full force of British security and intelligence to defeat Irish Republican insurgents and cement the relative peace we have today.’

    It also took the bloody minded and stupid response of a generation of Unionist political leaders to ensure that they would end up power sharing with SF instead of with the SDLP .

    The ‘relative peace’ that exists today could have existed from the mid 1970’s and NI might be closer to a ‘proper ‘democracy with government and an opposition .As things stand now the ‘leadership’ for the junior Unionist party is contested by two candidates one who favours the status quo of mandatory power sharing and the other who favours going into opposition .

    But then as we know from the political history of this island ‘unionist parties ‘ don’t do opposition very well .