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.