IRA memorial a grim reminder of suffering inflicted on many

Irish Times/by Jim Dee
Monday, September 29, 2003

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - Pro-British unionist foes of 1998's Good
Friday agreement will probably never attend an Irish Republican Army
memorial service. But if they had last Friday, perhaps some would
understand the extent to which all sides suffered during the
conflict here.

The event was the dedication of a wall mural honoring IRA and Sinn
Fein members killed in the north Belfast IRA stronghold of Ardoyne.

As the names of the dead were read aloud, former IRA heavyweight
Martin Meehan stood glassy-eyed, choked with emotion. Later, as the
crowd dispersed, he stood alone staring at the young faces of the
dead painted on the gable wall.

``I knew every one of them lads, and women, that was killed,'' he
told the Herald afterward. ``It brought back memories of the
sacrifice they made. On many of those occasions, I should've been
with them. I was just one of the lucky ones who survived.''

Hard-line unionists vilify people like Meehan, branding them
``unrepentant terrorists'' who bear sole blame for the bloodshed.

Meehan is certainly unrepentant. But he considers himself and his
former comrades to be freedom fighters, not terrorists. And he said
war was triggered by decades of anti-Catholic discrimination by
Protestant unionists who used electoral gerrymandering and voting
restrictions against Catholics in order to rule unopposed for the
first 50 years of Northern Ireland's existence.

``We were born into conflict. We didn't create this situation. This
situation was created by the British government when they
partitioned our country,'' Meehan insisted.

``Nobody liked to do it,'' he said of the IRA's war. ``Nobody wanted
to do it. Nobody took pride in doing it. But it was a job that had
to be done. People were hurt, and nobody takes any glory in anybody
being hurt. But people were hurt on both sides - British soldiers,
(police) and IRA volunteers. And, mostly, civilians.''

Speculation is rife that the IRA may stage a major disarmament act
to break a political deadlock that has existed since Britain iced
the North's assembly in October amid claims the IRA was spying

An IRA move may pave the way for assembly elections, possibly in
November. But fully transforming this sharply polarized society will
take more than political movement.

Many people also want the full truth told about atrocities by the
IRA and pro-British loyalist paramilitaries, and about the British
army's involvement with loyalists who killed alleged IRA members (a
charge leveled in April's high-profile report by London Police
commissioner John Stevens).

There is a growing debate about whether a formal truth and
reconciliation process, perhaps along the lines of that instituted
in post-apartheid South Africa in the 1990s, should be established.

But true societal healing won't occur until unionist hard-liners
accept there is a parity of pain between that felt by slain IRA
members' friends and relatives, and the suffering of friends and
relatives of slain Protestants, policemen and soldiers.

In this deeply divided society, such a scenario may seem light years

Then again, amid the bloodshed 10 years ago, few would have
predicted the ensuing decade would see the IRA on cease-fire three-
quarters of the time and a landmark peace accord in place for more
than half that period.

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