The IRA’s public apology for the suffering and pain to “noncombatants” its armed campaign inflicted during 30 years or so of violence and bloodshed is a significant gesture, one that is unprecedented in the recent history of the republican movement.
The statement coincided with the 30th anniversary of Bloody Friday, one of the worst incidents in the North’s conflict. On July 21, 1972, a series of IRA bombs killed nine people in Belfast and injured well over 100.
“We offer sincere apologies and condolences to their families,” the IRA said. It also apologized to the families of the combatants killed during the conflict, recognizing the pain and suffering that the loss of their loved ones entailed.
Throughout its long and troubled history the IRA has from time to time accepted responsibility for individual operations that claimed the lives of what it terms “noncombatants.” Some 650 civilians died at IRA hands. But the formal apology is the first time that the organization has acknowledged overall the pain and suffering for which it was responsible.
The issuing of the apology just before the Bloody Friday anniversary is probably less important than the fact that it comes a week before the British House of Commons debate on how to find new ways to ensure that the paramilitaries behave themselves. The IRA hopes perhaps that any attempt to punish Sinn Fein will now look mean and vindictive. No doubt the Unionists will be tempted to play up this aspect of it and treat the IRA’s statement of remorse cynically.
They ought not to react in this begrudging fashion. At the beginning of July, the Sinn Fein mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, recognized the victims of the Battle of the Somme in a moving gesture that was derided by some Unionists. That was a mistake, and looked like churlishness. Unionists should not make that mistake again. The IRA’s latest attempt to reassure them should instead be welcomed by all as another sign that the organization has turned its back on violence. It is a humane gesture and should be recognized as such.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.