Growing up I was very conscious of my nationalism. It wasn’t that I came from a very political family but my grandfather had nurtured in me a love for History, especially Irish History which I retain to this very day. I grew up with pictures of James Connolly, Patrick Pearse and Robert Emmet adorning my bedroom walls.
My contemporaries had the Bay City Rollers and all the regalia that with that, I’d no comparative regalia so I fastened a tricolour to my blazer. I’d promised myself that my first three boys would be James, Emmet and Pearse. I grew up and realism replaced my romanticism.
Many of our young people share that romantic view of our past. They might have Bobby Sands, Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness as their heroes. Perceived as Freedom Fighters who risked their lives for Irish Freedom.
If you think about it it’s easy to see them as such when not confronted with the reality of ‘their struggle’, on the surface they’ve rejected violence and chose the path of constitutional republicanism and yet paradoxically claim their path of violence was legitimate.
I am a constitutional Republican; I can’t think of a more apt way of describing myself. So why then do I not support Sinn Fein? It’s very simple: I’ve always been a constitutional republican.
I do not nor have ever condoned the use of violence particularly the sort that targets innocent people. I could never support a party that still legitimises that violence.
Unlike some republicans I was more drawn to Wolfe Tone the would be reconciler of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter as opposed to Tone the revolutionary.
As a young person I too was filled with passion and idealism but there was a constant streaming of the realities of the troubles coming through our television on an almost nightly basis that moderated my republicanism and attracted me to the true advocates of peace, the SDLP.
Under current international law, civilians are never legitimate targets in war. During the Troubles over 2000 civilians were killed, quite often targeted because of their religion like the horrific incident at Kingsmill, or the shooting of the Reavey brothers, also on many occasions collateral damage as the detonation of bombs became a common tactic of the IRA.
These are war crimes in my opinion. Carried out often by young recruits whose passions had been harnessed and utilized by very shrewd men who stayed in the background and kept their own hands clean.
Young men like Raymond McCreesh were used by the IRA, they were their cannon fodder, a replaceable soldier that would further their cause. McCreesh like many other young volunteers are still being used, they were used in life and are being used in death.
They say that History is written by the winners, SF appear to be the winners, they would almost have us believe that Gerry Adams is a saint walking amongst us, the Troubles was fought for equality and that they are serious about reconciliation! Their version of history is one where the freedom fighters are sanitised, sanctified and saintified.
Glorification of IRA deeds cannot go unchallenged. The next generation must be made aware of the reality of the Troubles, where people were abducted, shot and buried in unmarked graves, where people going about their daily lives were blown to bits by bombs, Catholics shot for being Catholics, Protestants shot for being Protestant. Children killed by bombs and bullets.
There was no honourable side in the Troubles but there were honourable people and there was an honourable political party that publicly denounced all acts of violence, that sought an end to the conflict and an acceptable arrangement for governance.
We are that still that party and we must be consistent on our opposition to the bloody IRA/ INLA/UVF/UDA campaigns. Just as we must continue to seek justice for those who killed by the security forces and those Machiavellian figures who managed NI like a bloody game of chess.
Kingsmill was a particularly cruel evil act carried out by people consumed with bitterness. Ten innocent men heading home from a hard day’s work shot dead, just for being Protestants. I don’t need to go into the story of it, you all know it
Raymond McCreesh is associated with one of the guns used at Kingsmill. I’m not saying he did it, I don’t know but the fact remains he had the gun.
Public places belong to all and a venue or facility that is for all, especially for children, should not be named after a member of the paramilitaries, or the military. To name a children’s play park after the man who had the gun that was used in the execution of 10 innocent men is grotesque and not reflective of the civil society we as a party are striving for. It does not ‘reach out’ to unionism.
Hume once said “it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to bring to each side the dilemma felt by the other, until our leaders and our people manage that breakthrough we will not make progress in NI.”
How would we feel if a children’s play park was to be named after Michael Stone, Wesley Somerville or Lenny Murphy?
There comes a time when we must stand up and say enough is enough, we must not allow the brainwashing of our children because that will only lead to the tears of our children and a procrastination of a divided society where Catholic is pitted against Protestant and vice a versa. Entrenchment only prolongs pain and makes reconciliation an impossible dream.
We as a people must reconcile. The GFA gave us the tools to do so. It created the necessary environment of hope and optimism. All it required was skilled politicians to deliver on its promise. Politicians that understand the dilemmas faced by others. People that will reward them for doing so.
We cannot reach out one hand in friendship and use the other one to poke them in the eye.
Denise Johnson is a Teacher of History and Politics. Former Executive member of SDLP, Secretary of the Moyola Branch. PG dip in Peace and Conflict, working closely with Truth and Reconciliation Platform.