By Jack Holland
Apart from the fact that as a Belfast man I am beginning to think that Derry people have the Nobel committee in their pocket (first Heaney, then Hume), I had no reservations about last week’s decision to award the peace prize to Hume and Trimble. I was happy with the balance — it was a political balance, but a judicious one.
In the debate which followed the news about the awards, there was considerable tut-tutting about the fact that Gerry Adams was not among the recipients. It can be argued that without Adams, there would be no peace process in the first place, since sans Adams it would be sans IRA cease-fire. However, to say, as some commentators have, that Adams was the only one among those involved in the peace process who risked his life for peace is a remarkable piece of revisionism — though perhaps that is too mild a word to describe a lie.
I read this assertion a few days after speaking to Pat Hume, John’s wife, who has played so crucial a part in the SDLP leader’s 30-year struggle for to reach a just settlement in Northern Ireland. I asked Pat about the price the Humes as a family had to pay for John’s life-long opposition to violence. Their home, in Derry’s Bogside, had been subjected to numerous attacks, at least once a year, mostly from IRA supporters, but she said the most frightening moment came in 1987 when there was a serious attempt made to burn them alive. At the time, she was at home with her youngest daughter, Maureen.
"Hooded men shot at our windows," she recounted. She says they tired to smash the glass so they could lob petrol bombs into the house. But the glass, fortunately, did not break. "Then they threw petrol bombs at each of the three stories. The petrol stuck to the reinforced glass as the house went up in flames. But the flames couldn’t get through the glass.
"We couldn’t get out the front door — it was in flames — so we fled out the back," she said. The house and her car were burning as they got out. The house survived but the car was destroyed. She dreads to think what might have happened had the bullets smashed the glass and allowed the attackers to land their bombs inside the house.
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Those responsible were the Fianna — the junior wing of the Provisional IRA. But it is unthinkable that they would have carried out this attack without the sanction of the IRA’s leadership in Derry — some of whom are now part of the I’m-more-peaceful-than-thou brigade.
She recounted how it was common for them to come home at night and find that people had daubed hateful slogans over the walls of their house, such as "Traitor Hume." Few have any doubts as to who was responsible.
The Derry IRA has a long tradition of intimidating its political opponents on the nationalist side — as well as murdering the odd loyalist politician. Regardless of the peace process, it has not completely abandoned that tradition, as Micky Donnelly will testify. A former high-ranking member of the republican movement who joined Republican Sinn Fein, he was badly beaten up by Provisionals in Derry last summer, ending up in hospital.
In other words, to paint Gerry Adams as the only potential martyr to the peace process is to engage in pure propaganda that would be laughable if it were not pernicious, as all attempts to rewrite history are.
It is true that Sinn Fein as a party has suffered — 13 members murdered over the years, dozens more singled out for attacks from loyalists and harassment from the security forces, government bans and various forms of censorship. Hume and the SDLP suffered also — but not because of their perceived relationship to a violent organization. They were targeted because they opposed violence, whether it came from the IRA, the UDA, the UVF or the security forces. For that a few SDLP members were driven from their homes in nationalist areas in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The UDA launched a bombing campaign against the homes of SDLP members in 1993, after it was made public that Hume was meeting with Gerry Adams.
Over the years, SDLP councilors have been assaulted in their own areas, especially places such as South Armagh, which the IRA regarded as its domain. For many years, Hume was on every loyalist hit list. Just three years after the SDLP was created, Paddy Wilson, one of its founding members in Belfast and a friend of Hume’s, was kidnapped with his secretary, Irene Andrews, taken to a desolate quarry outside of Belfast, where he was stabbed repeatedly and had his throat cut. The woman also suffered a horrendous death simply because she was a Protestant who kept company with a Catholic. This vicious attack was meant to intimidate the SDLP. It failed.
Twenty-two years later, Hume was able to sit down and negotiate with one of those who perpetrated the murder of Wilson and Andrews. Such a remarkable turnaround could only have come about because he showed that he was prepared to take risks in pursuit of a vision of peace which few others in the history of the Troubles ever possessed.
Ignorance is bliss
Talk about an ignorance of history. The Nobel Peace awards flushed out a few lunatic views of recent Irish history. Gregory Campbell, Democratic Unionist Party councilor for Derry city, protested that Hume should not have received the award, because he "started" the Troubles. Run that one by me again. Yes, Hume was the cause of the Troubles because he was involved with the civil rights movement, which was, we all know, an IRA plot.
I wonder, has Mr. Campbell ever heard of Gusty Spence and the UVF, which started murdering Catholics in 1966? Or the UVF bombing campaign in March 1969, which forced Northern Ireland’s prime minister, Terence O’Neill ,to resign? And all those marches held by someone called the Rev. Ian Paisley? I suppose they were all peace marches. Well, maybe the Nobel Peace Prize should have gone the Roaring Reverend instead.