Last weekend I was in Northern Ireland for a Dialogue weekend, run by the Foundation for Peace based in Warrington. The Foundation was formed in 1995 by Colin and Wendy Parry, following the loss of their 12-year-old son Tim and 3-year-old Johnathan Ball, in the 1993 Warrington bomb attacks. They have long been involved in the peace process and reconciliation after the conflict in Northern Ireland.
I was asked to take part in talks along with ex-servicemen, former combatants from both sides and survivors of terror attacks. I cannot go into details of the actual people involved to protect their identity. I can, however, say that the weekend was extremely challenging in content; challenging oneself and one’s own preconceptions, prejudices and ignorance.
We were shown how easily one can fall into patterns of conflict, not only with other people but more importantly with oneself. I came to learn that the ex-combatants, who we as servicemen faced across the divide, were like myself in so many ways.
I witnessed real dignity, honesty and pain in one serviceman’s story, who stood at the barricades in Londonderry. As someone who would have faced him, firing rubber bullets as part of the military there, I saw real pain in what he may have done and real sorrow and anguish. I recognised in the two of them the most amazing strength, courage and determination to overcome past prejudices. These two men are a real inspiration to me. All those I shared the weekend with have given me so much and I am humbled by their dignity and courage.
On Saturday night a few of us went to the pub for a beer or two. It turned out to be more than that. In the end we, a former IRA man, a former UVF man, an ex-Marine and myself were drinking Irish whisky, in an Irish pub, singing Irish songs. If that is not the spirit of reconciliation, then what is?
I was very honoured to have been asked to be part of the process. I can now proudly call my former enemies, friends.