18 July 2002 Edition
IRA apologises to families of non-combatants
No hierarchy of victims
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The IRA's apology for the deaths and suffering of non-combatants and their families has been broadly welcomed by politicians in Dublin, London, the US, and by some of the families at whom it was aimed.
In its statement, received by An Phoblacht on Tuesday, 16 July, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann offered "sincere apologies and condolences" to the families of non-combatants, and acknowledged the "grief and pain" of "combatants on all sides".
The statement was issued on the eve of the 30th anniversary of an IRA bombing offensive in Belfast on 21 July 1972, when 27 bombs were detonated in a three-and-a-half-hour period, causing massive economic destruction and killing nine people - two soldiers and seven non-combatants. The day became known as Bloody Friday.
Its apology was "appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event", the Army said in its statement. "While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is that on this [Bloody Friday] and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions...
"The future will not be found in denying collective mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who have been hurt. That includes the victims of the conflict, combatants or non-combatants."
Restating its commitment to the Peace Process, the IRA said that "acceptance of past mistakes and of the hurt and pain we have caused to others" was part of the challenge of that process.
Sinn Féin Assembly member and Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, described the IRA statement as "welcome and significant".
"I believe this apology and statement of condolence is a genuine effort by the IRA to address the grief and pain of the families of non-combatants who were killed as a result of IRA actions," he said.
"I also welcome the fact that the IRA acknowledges the grief and pain of the relatives of all of those killed in this conflict."This statement and the reiteration by the IRA of its total commitment to the peace process is a significant contribution to the process of conflict resolution."
Tom Donnelly, who lost a sister on Bloody Friday, said he was "totally overwhelmed" by the IRA statement.
"This is also the 30th anniversary of the worst year of the troubles. The statement gives me a lot of hope," he said. It would prompt others, he hoped, to acknowledge "the harm and hurt we have inflicted upon each other".
Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, also welcomed the move:
"The simple, harsh truth is that I lost my son and he shouldn't have died and nothing they can say or do will change that.
"But, in the context of Northern Ireland, anything at all which builds confidence and which is clearly a move forward in the Peace Process has to be welcomed, so on that level I welcome it."
26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, said: "The challenge now is to redouble our efforts so that all parts of the community have confidence that Northern Ireland is now advancing to an irreversible peace and the pusuit of exclusively democratic politics."
British Secretary of State John Reid also welcomed the statement, saying that the Peace Process "won't be completed until everyone is confident that the past is behind us and that the type of actions which brought so much pain have been set aside". He did not indicate, however, that a similar apology would be forthcoming from the British government.
The US Department of State said: "We welcome today's statement by the Irish Republican Army apologising to the families of its "non-combatant" victims. It is important in any conflict situation that parties deal honestly with the past, and this is an important step in that direction. We also welcome the Irish Republican Army's reiteration of its commitment to the Peace Process."
Sinn Féin MP for Mid-Ulster and Six-County Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness, met yesterday with US Special Envoy to Ireland, Richard Haas, regarding the issue of integrated education, and also to discuss the current state of the process.
The SDLP and Alliance parties welcomed the statement while unionist reactions varied. UUP leader David Trimble - who is currently attmpting to exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive and thereby bring down the political instiutions - said it was insufficient: "It is quite significant that this statement says nothing at all about the recent violence that the IRA has been involved in, nothing about what their future conduct is going to be."
He also warned that if the British government "uses this statement as an excuse not to fulfil those undertakings, the government will create a very dangerous situation indeed".
Surprisingly, the British Conservative Party, whose spokesperson on the North, Quentin Davies, has recently been accused by some of 'playing the Orange Card', was more upbeat, greeting the statement as "significant and welcome".
As expected, DUP representatives dismissed the statement, although David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party rejected this: "It has been a long time in coming and we should acknowledge the fact that it has arrived and hope that maybe it heralds a new attitude," he said.
Despite the recent loyalist onslaught on the Short Strand, however, Ervine later went back on his initially positive line, saying that he was "in two minds" about the statement, and that "the proof of the pudding will be in the eating".
Newspapers and the media in general have chosen to present the statement as unprecendented. However, the IRA has, throughout the last 32 years, apologised on many occasions for the deaths, resulting from its operations, of non-combatants.
In March 1993, for example, following the tragic deaths of boys Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry in the Warrington bombing, the IRA expressed its "profound regret". In October of the same year, following the deaths of nine Protestant non-combatants due to the premature explosion of an IRA bomb on Belfast's Shankill Road, the IRA stated that "we regret all innocent deaths". Following the Enniskillen bombing of November 1987, the Harrod's bombing of December 1983, and other operations in which non-combatants lost their lives, the IRA has made similar statements.
The following is the full text of the statement from the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann received by An Phoblacht on Tuesday, 16 July
"Sunday 21 July marks the 30th anniversary of an IRA operation in Belfast in 1972 which resulted in nine people being killed and many more injured.
While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions.
It is, therefore, appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us.
We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families.
There have been fatalities amongst combatants on all sides. We also acknowledge the grief and pain of their relatives.
The future will not be found in denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who have been hurt. That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non-combatants.
It will not be achieved by creating a hierarchy of victims in which some are deemed more or less worthy than others.
The process of conflict resolution requires the equal acknowledgement of the grief and loss of others. On this anniversary, we are endeavouring to fulfil this responsibility to those we have hurt.
The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland. We remain totally committed to the peace process and to dealing with the challenges and difficulties which this presents. This includes the acceptance of past mistakes and of the hurt and pain we have caused to others."
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau