A poignant event
It was an evening I shall not forget.
To my left, Gerry Adams. To my right, Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was killed by an IRA bomb left in a litter bin in Warrington in 1993. The two men had never met before.
To add to the poignancy of the evening we were sitting in Canary Wharf, next to the site of another IRA bomb which killed two in 1996. In the audience, those who'd been there on both those fateful days, and Victor Barker, who buried his 12-year-old son after the Real IRA's bombing of Omagh in 1998. All had been brought together by the Foundation for Peace (a charity of which I am a patron) founded in the names of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball, the three-year-old boy who was the other victim of the Warrington bomb.
It was an evening that reminded me how far we'd come in a short time, and how very far there is to go in escaping from violence in the name of politics and ideology. It reminded me too of how much the determination and the dignity of victims like Colin and his wife Wendy can help in that escape.
Parry's first question to Adams as they shook hands awkwardly in front of the cameras was "why Warrington?". There was, of course, no answer. Adams had come with a speech that began with praise for the Parrys' "grace", with a repeat of apologies the IRA had given to "non combatants" and his own "sincere regret" for those who'd suffered in this "long, vicious and deadly war". It contained, however, no doubts that "the armed struggle" had been a necessary part of the search for justice in Ireland even though, he insisted, that he'd never believed in a "military solution".
It was Colin Parry's speech which was altogether more memorable. Inviting Adams had not been easy, he said, but it had been infinitely more easy than carrying the injured body of his son, holding him as he died and carrying his coffin. It was, he went on, infinitely easier for him to talk to Adams than to fight him - this the guiding philosophy of the Foundation, which now teaches young people how to solve their differences (whether in Northern Ireland, or in a Liverpool scarred by gun crime, or in Leeds, where religious tensions can overspill daily) through dialogue and not confrontation.
I first met Colin and Wendy Parry weeks after that tragedy to persuade them to make a Panorama programme about their search for understanding about the death of their son. We took them to live with families on either side of the sectarian divide in a country they'd never before visited. They travelled to Ireland and to America to meet those who raised funds for those who killed their son. I believed then that this might help them by giving them some sense of purpose in those days which otherwise would have been empty of anything but grief and anger and incomprehension.
I would never have believed then that they would turn that journey into a search for ways to avoid future conflicts. The lesson Adams takes from his history is that politics and politics alone can avoid or bring to an end armed conflict. The lesson the Parrys took is the value of dialogue, and an understanding that violent conflict is a choice and one which can be avoided.
They both chose to take part in last night's event. All credit to them.
As for me, I have never been prouder of any programme I've been involved with. It is a small reminder that journalism and television can be more than mere entertainment.