Ardoyne plaque forges new link between present tensions and a terrible past.

This part of the Flora Bradley-Watson’s report in the Belfast Telegraph  of the commemoration of the bombing of Frizzell’s shop leapt out at me.

Charlie Butler, who lost three relatives in the attack – his niece Evelyn Baird, her partner Michael Morrison and their daughter Michelle – said that he had relied on the support of the Shankill community.

“It gives me strength to see the people are still behind us.”

Mr Butler said that he was offended by the unveiling of a plaque in Ardoyne for Thomas Begley, the IRA bomber who was also killed in the attack.

“I think what hurt us more than that was Thomas Begley’s father for attending it. He said that if he knew what his son had been doing he would have chained him to the bed,” he said.

It hurt us an awful lot to see him then hugging the Shankill bomber, Sean Kelly.

I wouldn’t dream of lecturing Mr Butler about how to react. But from my reading of the reports he has surely got it wrong .Very worryingly present tensions fed the atmosphere and contributed to the IRA ritual of the plaque unveiling at Ardoyne.  In the mix of motives a demonstration of pride in dead volunteers who risked their lives, a reaffirmation of the IRA cause and two fingers to loyalists were all present in this carefully planned and organised event.

For sure I don’t know what was all in the mind of Thomas Begley’s father apart from  his sense of devastating loss. But the evidence is persuasive.  There is no suggestion here that he gloried in the wretched act that killed his son and nine innocents while his friend and accomplice Sean Kelly lived.

Mr Butler might be reminded that Mr Begley was reported a few days ago that he didn’t want a plaque.

“If it had been us, we’d have just gone to the chapel and then up to the cemetery and that would have been it,” he told the Belfast Telegraph

Would it have been better to have stayed away from the unveiling?  The act of dissociation might have been too much for him. Might it not be that Begley’s father embraced Kelly his  son’s friend as the last person who talked to him alive – a way of recalling his dead son without any hint of approval, bearing  in mind also  his words of deep regret at the time? Parenthood is a dominant instinct most of us can understand. We can’t always expect parents  to be  politically correct all the time. For  me, Mr Begley had done enough.

No one is under the slightest obligation to accept Sean Kelly’s apology. It doesn’t help his reputation that he was returned to jail in 2005 for alleged rioting when Peter Hain revoked his parole licence. Gerry Kelly I seem to remember accused Hain of victimisation. As recently as February Kelly was questioned about a punishment shooting.

Any correction to the apparent misunderstanding of Mr Begley’s  position will be lost in the chorus of recrimination  that’s inevitably followed the dignified commemoration.  But it’s always worth trying to correct a misunderstanding and encouraging better thoughts if that’s at all possible  when terrible events are recalled. But who wants to listen along the few hundred yards  between Ardoyne and the lower Shankill?  The plaque unveiling was a political demonstration which only reinforces an unwelcome link between the present and the past.

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