038_G17 Arena

Global_17

Arena Politics The honest truth How does a nation that has been divided by hostilities move on once peace is declared? ‘Truth commissions’ try to find a middle ground between collective amnesia and Nuremberg-style trials Stephen Cole Michael Stone was one of the most violent men ever to walk the streets of Northern Ireland. He murdered in cold blood. Television cameras once recorded his attack on mourners at a funeral. He fired his gun and threw grenades at fellow Irishmen and women at Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery killing three people in 1988. His notoriety meant he became a cult hero in Protestant communities for deliberately slaughtering Roman Catholics. He was described as being the ultimate example of the truth that Protestant and Catholic would never be reconciled. I was at the Maze Prison in 2000 when he was released. He was saluted like a returning warrior by thousands of cheering supporters. Despite the Nobel Prizes and attempts at truth and reconciliation, the tribalism certainly isn’t forgotten and many wounds are still not healed Six years later I watched a remarkable scene as the Nobel Peace Prizewinner Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the crimes of the apartheid era – brokered a meeting between Stone, the former paramilitary, and the relatives of those he had been convicted of killing. The war – often called, euphemistically, the ‘Troubles’ – has a particular resonance for me. At the age of 19, I decided to turn down university and instead sign my indentures – my apprenticeship – in journalism with Caters News Agency in Birmingham, UK. Just three months later, on 21 November 1974, I was in the city the night when the largest bombs to explode in mainland Britain since World War II killed 21 people and injured hundreds more. The devices were placed in two central Birmingham pubs – the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town. The placing of the bombs by the IRA – the Irish Republican Army – in the Tavern was particularly cynical as it was an underground pub and the damage caused was far worse. From the bar I was in I heard the ‘dull thumps’ of the explosions and ran towards the first sirens. It was a scene of carnage and it was my journalistic baptism of fire. I covered the story that night and its lengthy and complex aftermath. The bombings created a wave of anti-Irish sentiment and there were some attacks on the Irish community. A few days later, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was swiftly introduced by the British government. For me that signalled the beginning of three decades of covering the ‘Troubles’. Many years later I was watching the killer Stone meet and talk to the widow and brother of one of the people he had shot dead. It was a moment of high emotion, tension and truth. Towards the end of the meeting, the widow stunned us all – not least Stone, Archbishop Tutu and the watching television crew – when she stood up and reached out to shake Stone’s hand. Tutu said: “We had some extraordinary moments in the week or so that we were here, where it was like something divine had intervened, and it was exhausting but eminently exhilarating. I think human beings are incredible… and I’ve seen examples here of the fact that it really is possible that we will see a resolution of the problems and people will say, as we did in South Africa, why were we so stupid for so long? “I have a good sense that Northern Ireland is going to be held up one day as a place where we thought the problems were intractable and you see they were intractable – just look at how well they’re getting on together.” 38 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global


Global_17
To see the actual publication please follow the link above