Why we shouldn’t hold our breath

By Jude Collins (judecollins.net)

Has everyone gone mad? Seriously, though. Sinn Féin’s chairman Declan Kearney is reported as having “challenged republicans to say ‘sorry’ - not for the IRA war, but for the hurt caused by all its armed actions”. Very commendable, very helpful but totally unoriginal. Republicans have been saying for years now that they’re sorry the conflict happened, that life was lost. That’s not the same as saying they think their armed campaign was a mistake or misguided or even immoral, anymore than any armed conflict in history has been immoral. But they regret the suffering and deep pain that people - everyone involved - had to suffer.

Frankly, to take any other attitude would indicate that you were a psychopath. Imagine saying - or even thinking - “I’m very glad that we were involved in a campaign which ended with lots of deaths and lots of people in a state of unconsolable grief”. And yet it seems that Kearney’s call has been seen as very worthwhile - “truly remarkable” is how the Rev Harold Good, former Methodist President described it. “What a challenge to us all”. And Good goes on to say that this initiative by republicans should be an opportunity for all to say sorry to one another for what we didn’t do and should have done, as well as for some of the things we did.

He’s got a point there. There is no doubt that when warring parties apologise to each other for the hurt inflicted in a sincere way, and receive immediate reciprocation, that it can go some way towards breaking down barriers of suspicion. And maybe that’s the problem - suspicion.

Well, let me tell you my suspicion. There are people - mainly but not exclusively unionist - who don’t want a sorry that says “I’m sorry so much pain and suffering had to occur, and I recognise that I’ve been part of the source of much of your pain”. No, no, no, Virginia. There are people who want a sorry that says “I’m sorry that so much pain and suffering occurred because I see now that I shouldn’t have been involved in it, I see now that I was the sole source of pain and suffering and death, and the campaign I was involved in was bogus and bloody”.

It’s that kind of apology that some people hanker after, because if they get it, they can then have the official history of the last forty years written their way. Nice and simple, the good guys versus the bad guys, and now, praise the Lord, the bad guys have admitted as much.

But if we come back to Declan Kearney’s call: anyone who thinks this is the first time republicans have said they were sorry that anyone had to die or suffer in the course of the armed conflict - they can’t have been paying attention, because it’s been said on numerous occasions before. The question is, as Brian Rowan says: will there be reciprocation? Don’t hold your breath.

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