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Charles/Adams meeting – seeing it from both perspectives, by Kevin Hearty

Kevin Hearty, from Warwick Law School, researches transitional justice, with a very specific focus on Northern Ireland. He looks in particular at Irish republicanism and at post-conflict attempts to 'move on' with former enemies.

He said: “When Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and party colleague Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness meet Prince Charles the anticipation is that historic baggage resultant from the conflict in the North of Ireland will be sacrificed on the altar of peace and reconciliation. The meeting, simply the latest in a number of recent engagements Sinn Fein has had with the British monarchy, sees a convergence between the difficulty of personal and collective ‘moving on’ in the aftermath of conflict. Although the meeting may be construed on the somewhat abstract collective level as one between Irish republicans and a figurehead of the long perceived ‘enemy’, there is a much more personalised element to it all.

“Prince Charles plans to visit Mullaghmore in County Sligo, the place where his uncle and close confidant Lord Mountbatten was killed in an IRA bomb attack in 1979. Meeting the political representatives of those responsible for this attack is no doubt an arduous task. Prestige, status and social position do not lessen the difficulty on a simple human level that conflict bereavement brings. It is also debateable as to whether the passage of time burdens the sense of loss caused by conflict related death. Prince Charles is indeed a victim of Irish republican aggression and meeting the victimiser, regardless of overarching discourses of peace and reconciliation, is not an easy undertaking.

“But Prince Charles is not the only party to the meeting to be nursing the wounds of the conflict. He is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief of the Paratroop regiment. It was soldiers from this regiment that murdered 11 unarmed people in Adams’ home area of Ballymurphy in 1971 and it was again soldiers from this regiment that murdered 14 innocent civil rights protestors in McGuinness’s home city of Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. While Irish republican aggression has indeed caused pain and hurt there is also Irish republican victimhood that is epitomised by the same pain and hurt. The meeting must thus be seen as one where victim meets victimiser from both perspectives. As in many cases seen in post-conflict societies elsewhere the concepts of victim and victimiser become co-existent rather than mutually exclusive. Irish republican victimhood is not lesser to the victimhood of those injured and bereaved through Irish republican violence – something too often overlooked in official state discourse and in media accounts on the Northern Ireland conflict.

“Adams and McGuinness also face political difficulty in their decision that should not be underestimated. They have faced sustained criticism from hard-line elements within their own constituency. There has also been criticism from at least one Bloody Sunday relative. Both have however proceeded unperturbed in a bid to face down detractors within their own constituencies in order to contribute to the ‘moving on’ agenda in the North of Ireland that is perhaps at a much less advanced stage 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement than many, particularly in the UK, would suspect. This meeting is not a silver bullet that will solve the many outstanding issues that ‘dealing with the past’ poses but at least it can make some contribution to post-conflict engagements where parties to the conflict meet with ‘former enemies’ as both victim and victimiser. Is this conducive to wider peace and reconciliation in the North of Ireland? Who knows- but it certainly isn’t a bad place to start.”

Notes to Editors

Kevin Hearty is available for interviews.

Contact Lee Page, Communications Manager at The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255. Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email: l.page@warwick.ac.uk.