Ruth Dudley Edwards: I stand by my assessment of Fathers Gerry Reynolds and Alec Reid

Like so many others, I have been upset about Sir David Amess.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 5:53 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 5:04 pm
Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author and commentator, who writes a column for the News Letter every Tuesday. She is author of 'The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions' and her most recent book is 'The Seven: the lives and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish republic'

I am hoping that the murder of this thoroughly decent human being will have the unintended consequence of shaming those who routinely demonise politicians, especially Tories.

It was distressing but at the same time encouraging to hear the warm tributes from constituents, colleagues and political opponents alike to a man without personal ambition who — like Labour MP Jo Cox, also stabbed to death — had gone into politics to help people and did so unstintingly for the whole of his career.

I hope it may cause people to hold back casual insults about “careerists out for themselves” or indeed, “scum”, for the vast majority of MPs are decent people.

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Those who criticise the description of Father Alec Reid and Father Gerry Reynolds as IRA sympathisers should admit that the two men showed bias

Nine serving MPs have been murdered since 1812, six of them, to our shame, by Irish republicans. The suspect for Sir David’s brutal assassination would appear to have been yet another man driven by a pitiless evil ideology.

I’ve spent much of my life studying and vociferously opposing what I consider dangerous ideologies (fascism, communism, physical force Irish republicanism, Islamism), which is why I’m at present in dispute with three distinguished and well-meaning clergyman: Very Reverend Peter Burns, director of Clonard Monastery, Reverend Harold Good, former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland and Reverend Ken Newell, Minister Emeritus, Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast.

The three wrote to this newspaper (October 12, see link below) to complain about my reference in a recent article to Clonard as “an establishment whose reputation with unionists was sullied by IRA sympathisers like Fathers Alec Reid and Gerry Reynolds”.

They took “great exception to the false characterisation of the two men as ‘IRA sympathisers’, for “We have known them and worked closely with them for a large part of our lives and can honestly assure your readers that nothing could be further from the truth.”

What?

I think it detracts from their own credibility to write like hagiographers (the biographers of saints) about their friends’ tireless work “to restore peace and forward reconciliation within the troubled and polarised community of Northern Ireland”, without honestly admitting they had in their time demonstrated bias and poor judgment — allegations dismissed as “hollow, painful and baseless”.

I was one of those who always remember the Alec Reid we saw on television in 1988 kneeling distraught by the bodies of two young British soldiers brutally beaten, stripped and murdered by the IRA. He brought us succour.

Yet in 2005, this close friend of Gerry Adams caused widespread consternation by his performance at a Clonard public question-and-answer event chaired by the Reverend Newell designed to convince Protestants that they could trust his word and that of the Reverend Good that they had indeed witnessed the decommissioning of the IRA.

Having explained to an incredulous audience that it would be against the IRA’s “whole philosophy to be attacking anybody in the unionist and Protestant community”, Reid angrily responded to criticism with “the nationalist community of Northern Ireland were treated almost like animals by the unionist community”, and followed up with “they were treated like the Nazis treated the Jews”.

During the subsequent explosion of outrage, it didn’t help that he had just explained on television that the IRA had nothing to do with the Northern Bank robbery because they said they hadn’t and they never lied and that they were “whiter than white when it came to criminality”.

I wrote of his “exposure of both his prejudice and his gullibility”, but added light to dark by asking that we “not forget Reid’s 1988 shining act of humanity”.

Gerry Reynolds never had as much attention as Reid, but he often betrayed his prejudices, for instance explaining that asking Adams if he was in the IRA was “a stupid question”.

Shane Paul O’Doherty, the repentant IRA postal bomber, was visited by Reynolds when he was transferred from England to the Maze and refused to join an IRA block.

His explanation that he had long previously resigned from the IRA, wanted nothing to do with paramilitarism and thought “anyone participating in the campaign of murder of his neighbours was in the service of the devil” shocked the priest, who headed straight off to the IRA blocks to tell the commanders everything O’Doherty had said and thus endanger him.

“Having betrayed me, he never came to see me again in my cell during the next four years before my release.”

Either these two priests were IRA sympathisers or useful idiots (a term used to describe those so naive or credulous that they can be easily manipulated to advance a political agenda they don’t really understand). Or, of course, both.

In fairness to them, they were up against masters. As Conor Cruise O’Brien, the inspirational critic of Irish republicanism, said to journalist Mary Holland: “A very serious weakness of your coverage of Irish affairs that you are a very poor judge of Irish Catholics. That gifted and talkative community includes some of the most expert conmen and conwomen in the world and I believe you have been conned”.

So in memory of that charitable man Sir David Amess, maybe rather than condemning Fathers Reynolds and Reid simply as “Provie priests”, we should try to see them as hapless victims of evil propagandists for a vicious ideology.

• Other articles by Ruth Dudley Edwards below, beneath that information on how to subscribe to the News Letter:

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