Trevor Ringland: NI did not deserve IRA terror

Sinn Fein vice President Martin McGuinness pictured with masked IRA men at the funeral of Brendan Burns PACEMAKER 1988
Sinn Fein vice President Martin McGuinness pictured with masked IRA men at the funeral of Brendan Burns PACEMAKER 1988

Last Monday (August 29) Alex Kane wrote about dealing with the past and the uncomfortable truths that it might involve for everyone.

Alex and others should bear in mind that while there were faults on all sides that contributed to the conflict, we should emphasise that the IRA campaign was not in any way justified.

I remember the words of a respected nationalist when I asked him to give me his honest view, after I had challenged a member of Sinn Fein at a public meeting over his justifying of the IRA campaign, as to whether he felt it was justified and he replied: “Trevor, there was nothing achieved through violence that could not otherwise have been achieved through peaceful means!”

It reminded me of a discussion I had about the Troubles with two republican paramilitaries who served long prison sentences for murder.

One insisted that the IRA’s campaign was necessary to secure gains for the nationalist people. In contrast, his colleague agreed with me that our society had got into a mess which it should have avoided and the most important lesson was never to repeat the same mistakes again.

The first prisoner was repeating Sinn Fein’s line, which demands respect for the IRA campaign of violence.

That is something that we can never concede as a society.

There was the basis for a genuine, constructive relationship with the second prisoner as someone who I could potentially work in partnership with to help to build a better, more peaceful and prosperous society.

At their purest, the civil rights protests were about making Northern Ireland a better place.

In contrast, republican violence aimed to overthrow the state. Unionist leaders deserved the civil rights movement, but they and wider society didn’t deserve IRA terror.

Violence will never solve the problems on this island, but building relationships has the potential to solve many of them.

I’m sceptical that we will ever truly ‘deal’ with our past.

Truth without justice is an empty concept for many victims of violence and it might do more harm than good.

I believe a majority of people agree that anyone who acted outside the law during the Troubles was wrong, whether they were republicans, loyalists or worked for the state.

However a key difference, that is too often ignored, is that the security services were trying to preserve life and helped prevent a civil war breaking out as opposed to the paramilitary organisations who strived to take life and were at best reckless as to whether or not a civil war developed.

That interpretation of history forms a foundation on which to build a future for our children.

It will be a failure if we allow other narratives to flourish.

At a minimum, dealing with the past must mean challenging those who continue to poison young minds, whether they are still involved in violence, or whether they justify violent acts from the past.

Trevor Ringland, Holywood