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3 Oct 2014
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The IRA Regrets...
by Kevin Connolly
In Northern Ireland the past is a dark and divided place; when our politicians pay it a visit, it is generally to dust off a past grievance to justify some future act of intransigence.

In their schools, in their songs and on their streets, protestants and catholics are offered versions of history so different that at the extremes they produce different senses of right and wrong.

Republicans are brought up to believe that theirs are the legitimate weapons in Northern Ireland, that they are an army of resistants fighting an occupying power.

Unionists believe “their” police and Britain’s armed forces have bravely held the line here against a murderous terrorist rabble.

The IRA’s apology to the families of what it calls non-combatant victims of the troubles sits uncertainly, somewhere in between those two understandings of history.

Martin McGuiness of Sinn Fein urges us to take it at face value, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble points out that the IRA statement offers no guarantees about the future.

These statements are often written in a curiously pompous style, shot through with the jargon of military planners or political science lecturers.

But the IRA’s distinction between it’s civilian and military victims is a reminder that the organisation is speaking to two very different audiences.

It is of course trying to reach out to its victims, but it is also sending a signal to it’s own grass-roots that it continues to believe it was justified in killing anyone who wore a British uniform. It can’t abandon that belief without undermining it’s followers belief in the legitimacy of everything they’ve done in the last 30 years.

The timing too is opportunistic. Here is the IRA reminding us how far they have travelled since the no warning bombs of Bloody Friday, just as the British government prepares to draw up a stricter definition of just what really constitutes a paramilitary ceasefire.

No reason in that though to doubt the underlying sincerity. After all if the IRA can look back with regret, that’s one more reason for the rest of us to look forward with hope.

Peace means having to say sorry - from BBC News Online
The IRA statement in full
Sinn Fein official website
Northern Ireland Office
Northern Ireland Assembly

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Listen - Hear the full report.
Listen - Tommy McKearney a former IRA member and Lord Tebbit on the IRA's apology to the civilian victims of its campaign of violence.
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