What are now regarded as crimes in Northern Ireland, used to be, not very long ago, considered acts of heroism, resistance to tyranny and patriotism. Songs were written about them, Guinness and Bushmills drunk, medals issued and even careers enhanced.
But to those clouded by the hypocrisy of hindsight, to say this this might seem outrageous.
Then after much suffering and bloodshed, both sides made the decision to start talking to each other, urged on by the examples of people like Father Alec Reid who died yesterday.
In 1988, Father Reid risked his life to save those of two solders caught up in a Republican funeral procession, to be beaten then murdered by the IRA. He gave mouth-to-mouth then Last Rites to Derek Woods as he died.
Thousands of people were killed and seriously injured in the Northern Ireland Troubles. Full-on civil war was only very narrowly averted in the early days, as the security forces learned to soften the harsh tactics it had used to suppress riots in the Far East, from shooting ring readers, to snatch squads while enduring hours of attack by petrol bombs and bricks.
During those early years, as the IRA rapidly made itself the best, most professional and dangerous terrorist organisation in the world. In parallel, the British Army learned some underhand tricks of its own. At a time when IRA bombers and snipers were killing hundreds of innocent civilians including large numbers of Catholics, we’re now learning that the security force operations killed and injured innocent people too.
However, whereas the IRA and their less sophisticated Protestant equivalents deliberately killed innocent people to generate terror – as that’s what terrorists do, the security forces injured and may have killed a number of innocent people. As they were also hunting known terrorists at the same time, it’s fair to label this ‘colateral damage’, rather than the deliberate killing of innocent people.
And now, forty years later, this has led to calls for investigation of the Army’s Military Reaction Force (MRF) for alleged breaches of the rigid “Yellow Card” rules that restricted the circumstances under which soldiers could open fire.
But peace has meant radical changes. The world has moved on. Terrorists have become Members of Parliament, with the book firmly closed on their past activities. Army tactics forced IRA into talks, then to the ballot box.
For the Army, this was not a war that could be won, so the IRA could equally claim that they’d prevailed.
The end result is peace. And that’s a good result. The best …
It’s interesting that Panorama are pursuing ex-soldiers. But that’s a lot easier and very much safer than trying to film the perpetrators of some of the IRA’s atrocities. It’s also easier to get people to make complaints against the Army. After all, nobody is going to be able to sue the IRA …
My advice is to leave all these sleeping dogs where they’ve ended up. Of course that’s impossible for hungry media producers looking to trump the Bloody Sunday enquiry – and also for ex-military commentators of a certain ilk who like to emphasis their own ‘professionalism’ and liberal values by huffing and puffing about the alleged activities unearthed by Panorama.
And it’s not in the former terrorist’s interests that these witch hunts continue. Tit for tat accusations can only inflame.
So … Messrs McGuinness and Adams could do themselves a favour by making some sort of public statement about the drawing of lines underneath events, and moving on … Father Reid would probably have agreed.