issue 255 - May 1994
Will the hard men
fall to loving?
Even after a peace agreement there will be wounds to heal,
tough issues to resolve. Dave Duggan looks to the Third World
for hints as to how his home city of Derry might face the future.
In Irish mythology the Morrigan is one of the goddesses of the underworld. It is said that these were the deities of the Tuatha De Danann (people of the Goddess Danu) who inhabited Ireland before the Celts. Banished by the Celts, they went to live underground and became our fairy people. The mythology and history of Ireland is full of stories of comings and goings, planting and supplanting. And over all this activity the Goddesses have watched, different ones gaining prominence as times changed.
For over 20 years now the Morrigan has cast her shadow over Ireland. She is the Goddess of War, often appearing as a raven, spreading her great wings over all of us. More recently the talk has been of peace and the possibility of conflicts coming to an end. It is as if we were lifting the shadow of the Morrigan and letting in the light of Danu, Goddess of Peace and Plenty.
But we are still anxious and unsure. What is stopping us from imagining the future? And can we make the leap of imagination required to bring on the light?
In Nicaragua groups of Contras and Sandinistas have come together to pressurize their government on land issues. In El Salvador associations of war wounded have been formed because people who were opposed to each other during the war now find that they have common interests. This, of course, is not without its problems – it’s not easy to start suddenly lining up in common with people you’ve been fighting against for years.
Could this kind of reconciliation happen in Ireland? At the moment even reconciliation activists note that the ‘hard men’ don’t participate in their work. A few years ago a man I knew called Cecil McKnight was killed by the IRA. Active in loyalist paramilitary politics, Cecil was also engaged in tentative dialogues outside his community, quite literally testing the bridge between the two sides because our city is divided by the River Foyle, with the Protestant and Catholic communities identifying in large measure with its opposite banks. Last year an IRA man called Tony Miller was convicted of Cecil’s killing and is now serving a life sentence. I know Tony’s family and wonder how they will imagine the future for themselves and their city. Will it include the possibility of bridge-building with Cecil’s family? Because it is in the lives of such people that the deepest reconciliations will be found, lives linked by common experiences of unemployment, a shrinking welfare state and an increasingly distant public bureaucracy. Structures have to emerge that enable and enhance this reconciliation. Building peace won’t be easy. Where in the world is it easy?
In Palestine a peace accord may have been signed by leaders but it is not yet making any difference to people on the ground – after the Hebron Massacre you could even argue that the peace accord has made things worse. Peace negotiations came unstuck in Guatemala after three years with claims that the government side was intent on war. And in Ireland tentative steps towards a peace process have been bogged down in issues of ‘clarification’ and ‘prenegotiation’. lt seems as if there is no guarantee that formal peace agreements will bring new circumstances of life for people.
In Ireland much will depend on what sort of new structures are put in place. At the moment when I go two miles outside the edge of my city I am going to another European country, also called Ireland. It is impossible to imagine any long-term peace here that did not address the border question. Every time I cross it to visit friends, do work or take some ease I am treading a minefield of Irish history. And in recent years the border checkpoints have become more and more militarized.
When I put my six-year-old daughter to bed at night I shudder as I pull the curtains in her bedroom because through the window I can see the top of the huge observation tower that dominates Rosemount, the area of Derry where I live. The security argument runs that the towers will remain as long as the IRA threat does. Soldiers are stationed there and with their high-tech equipment can monitor the people of the area in their most private moments. Last year when the newspapers were full of the story of Princess Diana being photographed while exercising in a private gym, letters appeared in one of my local papers saying that soldiers in the tower were shouting down at young women passing by. They were able to say what posters the young women had on their walls, what furnishings they had in their bedrooms, what clothes they wore in their own homes. This particular ‘invasion of privacy scandal’ never made the international press.
Across the city a huge new fortified police station has gone up right next to a primary and nursery school. Lisnagelvin School serves a largely Protestant population and in general the parents of the children understand and probably support the notion that security installations are necessary as long as the IRA threat remains. Yet when I visited the school I heard various parents and staff express misgivings about the new police station. Ironically it was built soon after the Gulf War when the whole idea of having security installation next to built-up areas was decried. For the people of the Lisnagelvin and Rosemount areas these installations only serve to provide insecurity, the very opposite of their supposed purpose.
And still the IRA and loyalist paramilitary threat remains. Their violence could form no part of any future worth imagining. But even if they did agree to lay down their arms, what to do with all the weaponry? A Republican friend told me that the IRA may only hand weapons over to an agency which has all-Ireland authority – a notion unlikely to find favour with the British, let alone the unionists. And even then certain sections of the IRA might decide to fight on. This process of peace is a fragile one. In Angola a peace process collapsed on this very issue of demobilization and demilitarization. Elections ended in a rerun of the civil war.
Even if the guns can all be silenced, will we just walk away from the horror of the longest undeclared war in recent European history? Will the British Army officers who ordered the Bloody Sunday massacre, when 13 unarmed civilians were killed on the streets of this city 22 years ago, be charged with war crimes? Will leaders of the UVF and UDA face war-crimes tribunals for years of bitter sectarian killing? Will IRA leaders face boards of inquiry into no-warning bomb operations, knee-cappings, killings of so-called legitimate targets? Or will we just move on, swallowing hard, sweetening the bitter pill of forgetting with a large dollop of money?
The conventional wisdom is that there is a queue of international capitalists just waiting offshore to pour money into Ireland once the conflict is over. They can’t wait to get at our educated and willing labour force and to use us as a backdoor into the lucrative European market. European and American money is also promised in the form of subventions, grants and loans in an attempt to relaunch the economy here. And who in their right mind could complain about that as part of an imagined future? Except that real worries exist about the ability of the ‘throw money at it’ solution to cope with a shattered manufacturing base, crumbling infrastructure and massive long-term unemployment. Will we become the green leisureland of Europe, bristling with low-paid jobs in services and tourism? Unfortunately the economic future is also linked to the political framework and the question of the border comes up again. Ian Young, a Protestant entrepreneur, said on my local radio station that he could do business in an all-Ireland context. Is that the sort of economic pragmatism that will shape our future?
Ian Young comes from the tradition that calls this city Londonderry. This was the name given at the time of the copper-fastening of colonization in the seventeenth century. Common usage and the nationalist tradition name the city Derry. In a neat way the very naming of the place highlights the possibility of cultural difficulty and conflict. Imagining a future where these cultural differences act as a bedrock of riches from which we could draw is very attractive.
There is no doubt that by raising all these questions we will be helping to lift the shadow of the Morrigan. Like other communities around the world who are building new societies in the wake of conflict, we will only make our imagined futures real by creating options for ourselves. More and more people have to become involved, reaching for the edges of the shadow of war, folding and turning them back, letting in the light so that we can see ourselves more clearly and face our futures in hope. With the benevolent gaze of Danu, Goddess of Peace and Plenty, beaming down upon us.
Dave Duggan lives in Derry, where he works as a writer, broadcaster and trainer in conflict resolution.
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