‘IRA bomber event in east Belfast could stop dissidents’

Rev Dr Gary Mason
Rev Dr Gary Mason

On October 23, 1993 I stood outside the Mater Hospital in Belfast with my arms around Alan McBride, whose wife Sharon had just been murdered by the IRA in the Shankill bombing.

His words still echo in my mind: “She’s gone, she’s gone.”

That evening I was at the bedside of Wilma McKee, another victim of the Shankill IRA bomb, before she died.

I got home that evening and I cried myself to sleep.

I know the devastation that IRA bombers and indeed any bomber can visit on the lives of the innocent.

I conducted the service of the most famous UVF bomber turned peacemaker and loyalist politician David Ervine in January 2007. We became good friends.

By accident I got caught up in the furore surrounding the visit of Brighton bomber Patrick Magee to the East Belfast Mission on Thursday past.

The event was not organised by East Belfast Mission but by the 4 Corners Festival.

I felt the event, painful as it was to some, should go ahead – peacemaking is risky.

Those who protested outside East Belfast Mission may or may not have sat at the bedsides of those dying from bomb injuries or sat at the bedside of the late David Ervine as he breathed his last breath, the bomber turned peacemaker.

I know better than most about bombers.

If you ask me why Patrick Magee was allowed on the premises of East Belfast Mission in the loyalist heartland of east Belfast, it is simple.

I do not want any more Patrick Magees.

I know first-hand the pain bombers can inflict and, as a Christian, if a controversial dialogue stops anyone else ever planting a bomb on this island I am going to dialogue.

To those protestors outside the mission I want your future to be free from bombers.

I do not want to be visiting you in a bloodied bed or conducting your funeral in a few years’ time, the victim of a dissident bomber.

The site you stood on to protest was the site where the British Secretary of State Dr John Reid met the Loyalist Commission in July 2002.

It was the site where the late David Ervine was buried from in January 2007 and also the site from where the UVF and the RHC did their decommissioning statement in June 2009.

It was the site where Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh came in March 2008 to commend the work of the loyalist east Belfast community.

I also hope that it may be the site that took a risk in listening to IRA bomber Patrick Magee who, maybe just maybe, will speak into the lives of young republicans who may want to be dissident bombers, and ask them to think about another way.

You never know to those outside protesting – maybe this event just saved your lives from a future dissident republican bomber.

I hope so, because, as a Christian minister who has spent 27 years working in the inner city of Belfast never more than 200 metres from an interface, through some of the most savage acts of this conflict, I want your lives to be free from bombers.

The words of dialogue, however difficult, are never as loud or as damaging as the bombs that have bloodied this place for decades.