JO BERRY hit the nail on the head when she expressed her surprise that the Brighton bomber, Pat Magee, should be invited to an event in the House of Commons to mark the anniversary .
"It is like inviting Guy Fawkes," she said, but nevertheless thought it was a good idea. Her father Sir Anthony Berry was one of five people murdered in the explosion and has found comfort in making friend with Magee. They have become a regular double act at events to mark the bombing or to talk about the value of forgiveness and understanding in the wake of tragedy.
Nobody could begrudge Berry if talking to Magee and forgiving him helps lift the deep burden of grief which she feels. What is more problematic is the effect it has on Magee who seems to be using it as a device to justify what he did and live with its consequences without accepting personal responsibility for them. He also expresses no desire to forgive others.
During his trial I researched an ITV documentary on Magee and years later when I was invited to meet him during a visit to Belfast he pulled out at the last minute. I later learnt that he felt I had been intrusive in seeking out details of his life and he didn't like the general tone of my writing.
He was quite entitled to do that but if meeting a nosey journalist whose writing he resents is too much of a hill for him to climb then what credibility does he have preaching forgiveness and reconciliation to people who have lost limbs or loved ones?
His script is predictable. An interview in yesterday's Times is very similar to one he gave to BBC's Hard Talk in 2002.
In the abstract Magee regrets that people died but he has no regrets about the bombing which killed them. Nor will he condemn those who took up arms. "I could never say to future generations, anywhere in the world, who felt themselves oppressed, 'Take it, just lie down and take it'," he argues.
This amounts to a general endorsement of violence. Nobody uses force who does not feel oppressed. Morality consists in restraining the instinct to lash out but Magee reduces the moral barrier down to zero, if you feel oppressed that's enough to allow you to kill. Nor do you need to be too choosy about your targets.
Magee set a long delay timer, like the ones in video recorders, a month before the Tory Party conference. He hoped the party leadership would stay in that hotel but, beyond that, he had no idea who would be killed. Judging by the bomb's location timing experts believe his intention was to demolish the hotel as guests slept. The Irish Times suggested it was loosely modelled on an attack by Irgun, the Zionist terror group, upon the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which killed 91 people in 1948.
That attack was influential in driving the British out of Palestine. In the event five people were killed in Brighton, but it is no thanks to Magee that it was not more "successful". He was not a raw recruit, he was the IRA’s chief explosives officer, he had already served one jail sentence for membership and he had planted other bombs in cities including London, Manchester, Liverpool, Coventry and Southampton.
His argument in defence of it is that it was necessary to show that the IRA campaign could not be confined to Northern Ireland.
Magee has also said “at the end of the day it’s about legitimacy and who is allowed to use force. If everything is examined through the prism of legitimacy you can break it down to different gradations. Why should it just be the prerogative of those in power?” Again we have the lifting of all moral barriers. Once we accept that the use of legal force can never be justified then force can be justified in all circumstances.
He also argues that “all avenues were closed to us, that our only recourse was to engage in a violent conflict" which is plainly untrue. There was nothing to stop Sinn Fein from standing in elections then, as now.
Magee, now a supporter of the peace process, needs to ask himself whether seats in Stormont could not have been achieved without all that bloodshed? Until he faces that question his justifications for his actions will sound a hollow, self-serving note.