Back in ’04 we went to Derry. (That’s my photo above.) Met with far-uncle Hugh, who lives there still and sent a lovely gift for our wedding. Hugh’s father (my great-grandmother’s brother) was in the Easter Rising; I’d known this, but talking with Hugh, and wandering around Derry, gave it some more context; getting a better sense of the hard road Ireland has been down this last century.
We visited the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre, and stopped in at an information centre, a spartan and simple hall with lots of material crammed inside. They obviously didn’t have much money. What they wanted was justice; what that would imply varied depending on whoever you spoke to, but what everyone agreed on was an acknowledgement by Westminster of the wrongs that were committed, and an apology for them. The Saville Inquiry was long underway (and indeed we wandered through the Guildhall where it was held) but there was little confidence that it would deliver what was hoped. They carried on nonetheless, hoping for a peaceful future for Derry. (I can’t recall for sure, but my memory tells me that the centre had volunteers from both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide, people who want to move beyond the divisions of Republican and Unionist.)
Yesterday the Saville Inquiry’s report was released, and Westminster – in the person of British PM David Cameron acknowledged the wrongs that were committed, and issued an apology. It was an unequivocal acceptance of horrific wrongdoing and unwarranted state violence against innocent people.
My friend natural20 is my lightning rod for Irish politics – he always has something useful to say about what’s happening there. Over on his journal, he and his commenters express amazement and approval. Says one: “Never thought I’d see the day.”
It’s a great day. Ireland’s Troubles were brutal and real and founded in layers of historical injustice, exacerbated by contemporary violence and confounded by self-interested politics. Ireland has slowly been unwinding the barbed wire of history from around itself, moving cautiously towards peace. This is a major symbolic advance. This is a milestone in a wider and longer process, and while we haven’t heard the last of Bloody Sunday, the conversation around it will now have changed irrevocably, and for the better.
It’s a great day because of what it demonstrates. The Troubles in Ireland echo the problems in many other parts of the world. What we’re seeing, grindingly slowly but genuinely, is proof that these problems can be resolved. Perhaps the grinding slowness is inevitable; perhaps every day of atrocity requires a decade’s hard work to unpick; but the fact remains that Saville’s report, Cameron’s words, and the new mood in Ireland show change can happen.
It’s the best news I’ve heard all year.
(The Bloody Sunday information centre has, if I’ve followed the information trail correctly, developed into the Museum of Free Derry.)