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6 February 1997 Edition

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Confronting the need for apologies

Pardon and Peace
By Nicholas Frayling
Published by SPCK
Price £10.99

This is a rare book indeed. It is by an Englishman who believes that Britain owes a debt of ``sorrow and penitence'' to the people of Ireland.

The author, Canon Nicholas Frayling, the Rector of Liverpool, was in Derry last weekend at a time when his message found a particularly emotional resonance. Wherever he went he was warmly received and at a commemorative mass in St Mary's, Creggan, his message of solidarity was given a standing ovation.

His is a brave stance which deserves the type of thanks he got in Derry.

It is appropriate that as this review appears, a row over whether Britain should apologise for Bloody Sunday gathers pace. It goes to the heart of Frayling's message.

But the scope of his analysis is much wider than Bloody Sunday. He arrived at his view that Britain owes Ireland an apology in part through his reading of Irish history. ``No political solution [is] likely to succeed without the deep hurts of history being first acknowledged and then, if possible, healed,'' he writes. He recognises Britain's colonial role in Ireland. It is, sadly, a rare thing that we have a book which puts Britain's responsibility into the equation - it serves to illustrate how virtually all British commentators are happy to paint the British as long standing neutrals in Ireland.

Similarly, Frayling makes the obvious - and rarely stated - observation that a solution requires us to look at causes, not just at consequences.

But if Frayling is motivated by a reading of history, an even stronger plank in his analysis is his Christian faith. ``Sorrow and penitence are basic to a Christian understanding of life,'' he argues. He makes clear his belief that ``an act of sorrow can break the stalemate'' and stresses that Britain must make the first move.

Frayling accepts that some may see his emphasis on spirituality as naive in ``the harsh world of politics''. He believes that ``politics alone cannot bring lasting peace to Ireland. Indeed, I would go further and say that human means alone are insufficient.''

This view is stated when he considers the part that apologies played in changing South Africa. He is encouraged by FW de Klerk who says that sanctions did not bring an end to apartheid. ``It was not the sanctions,'' he quotes de Klerk as saying, ``but deep self-analysis on our knees before God.''

It is difficult not to be cynical after hearing that. Frayling's approval perhaps shows up a lack of awareness of the nature of power and of how material interests tend to lead the way for peace and reconciliation.

The South African experience is that apologies and repentance came after the Afrikaners realised the game was up. When the Afrikaner leadership saw that the coffers were empty and the future held only bankruptcy, isolation and revolution, it was then that the word apology began to sprout in their minds.

It would be instructive to ask what are the political realities which prevent those in power from apologising. Why, for example, the British state, even when faced with overwhelming evidence of its guilt - as with Bloody Sunday - cannot countenance a new inquiry or an apology.

That said, Frayling in fact sells himself short. His work is political - by opening up these issues he is engaging in the harsh world of politics. He has no doubt recognised that reality from the difficulties he has experienced in trying to begin a debate on Britain's role in Ireland.

Pardon and Peace is an open-hearted account of a spirtual journey and I would highly recommend it.

By Brian Campbell

Pornographic propaganda

SAS: The Illustrated History

By Barry Davies

Published by Virgin

Price £20 (Stg)

The hated SAS (Special Air Service) are the best known of Britain's so-called `anti-terrorist' and special forces regiments. They are of course no stranger to controversy especially in the Six Counties, with their involvement in shoot-to-kill operations, including the killing of eight IRA Volunteers at Loughgall in 1987 and the murder of Mairéad Farrell, Dan McCann and Seán Savage in Gibraltar in 1988.

Written by Barry Davies, himself an ex-SAS member, this book has numerous illustrations of these terrorists at work and play.

The regiment has its roots in the North African campaign during WW II, and was later revived for Britain's counter-insurgency operations in Malaya in the 1950s. The SAS is a collection of highly-trained soldiers with a reputation for ruthless efficiency (killing), used in clandestine and behind enemy line operations in Britain's many imperialist forays around the world. Shots of those they killed from all around the globe, from Oman to the Gulf War, are thrown in.

The book of course is a PR job for the SAS, with an overall tone of mystique, glory and secrecy. There is nothing glorious about what these boys have been doing in the name of `British democracy' over the past 40 years. The book is basically British militaristic pornography.

By Ciarán Heaphey

TOM's mag gets election fever

Troops Out Magazine
Available from Troops Out Movement, BM TOM, London, WC1N 3XX (Phone 0171-609-1743)
Price £1.50
Troops Out is, like every other publication, it seems, getting into election mode. Its latest issue is now out and among the features is a rundown on what each of the parties say on Ireland - from the Alliance Party to the Whigs (``the party that brought you the Reform Act is back to restore our beloved country to its proper position in the world'').

Also featured are an article by Emma Groves telling how she was blinded by a rubber bullet, a piece about the Irish `state' from 1918-21, a history of ETA, and much more.

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