I believe there is a new spirit in Ireland . . . . The real Ireland is walking behind the coffins of your sons: Tim Parry died yesterday, after the IRA's Warrington bombing. Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, gives his reaction

Click to follow
Some years ago, Gordon Wilson, now a member of the Irish Senate, watched his daughter die in the rubble of the Remembrance Day massacre at Enniskillen. In the grip of so much human pain the words which came to his lips were a message of forgiveness for those who had perpetrated that unspeakable crime. It was one of the defining moments of the Troubles. It highlighted of course the atrocity of terrorism, but more importantly, it demonstrated why the terrorism of the IRA will not succeed.

It is commonplace but misleading to speak of 'mindless terrorism'. Terrorism may be ruthless and deeply misguided, but that is a different thing. It usually reflects a calculated strategy. In the case of the IRA that strategy rests on the assumption that the inherited differences between the two communities in Northern Ireland or between the Irish and British peoples will outweigh the bonds of solidarity and shared interest between them, or, at any rate, can be made to do so if a sufficiently ruthless campaign of terror succeeds in rekindling the old animosities.

For that strategy to succeed each protagonist must fit the stereotype assigned in the outdated mythology of the IRA. The truth is that both governments, and the great mass of people in both islands, have long since ceased to do so. The bombs search out their victims at random, and the reactions of those who are so cruelly propelled into the spotlight in grief and agony confirm this. The network of human contact between us is too strong, even at its weakest point between the two communities in Northern Ireland, for a strategy of hatred to succeed in its objectives.

I mention Enniskillen because the atrocity in Warrington has raised distinct echoes of it in Ireland. This is not to undervalue the anguish of more than three thousand other families who have also been bereaved. It is rather that the persistent anger felt in Ireland at the ongoing campaigns of murder of both the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries finds a particular focus from time to time because of some specially barbaric dimension.

In Enniskillen it was an attack during the commemoration of the dead. In Warrington it was the casually brutal sacrifice of innocent children.

The reactions of the families of Johnathan Ball and Timothy Parry were a moving testimony of the capacity of the human spirit to rise above hatred and despair, even in the midst of almost unspeakable anguish. Their human dignity is the ultimate rebuke to the inhumanity of the bombers. As the widespread public reaction here shows, it struck a profound chord in Ireland, and confirms yet again that the assumptions, whether about the English or the Irish, which the terrorists use to calculate the effects of their campaign are profoundly wrong.

Edmund Burke once said memorably that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph was for good men to do nothing. It is not enough merely to condemn the violence and to underline its cruel futility. The people of Ireland, no less than the people of Britain, want to be sure that no stone is left unturned, acting within the rule of law - because it is above all the rule of law which terrorism seeks to subvert - to counter this evil. Both governments are co-operating closely and determinedly on this issue in the framework of the Anglo-Irish Conference. The burden of additional security costs caused by the Northern Ireland problem falls proportionately about four times heavier on the Irish taxpayer than his or her British counterpart, but the contribution is unhesitatingly made, because our people see clearly that terrorism is a threat to all of us.

In spite of a wide spread of candidates and assiduous cultivation of local issues, Sinn Fein candidates polled about 1.6 per cent of the votes in our most recent general election. This figure would be typical for recent elections and demolishes, more succinctly than any argument could, the suggestion that proponents of violence have any political mandate here.

I believe there is a new spirit in Ireland in relation to the Northern Ireland problem which is ripening towards expression in new political arrangements. We have come to learn the hard way that peace and stability will not be found in any political system which is rejected on grounds of ethos or identity by a significant minority of the people governed by it. That remains true for Ireland as a whole, no less than for Northern Ireland. We have yet to make the collective effort necessary to build new political relationships in Ireland based on that key insight. If we can do so, I believe the prospects for peace will be bright.

Such a system would be founded on a reality which is now widely recognised, rather than on the inherited myths on both sides of the divide which allow terrorism and evil to root in the vast, and perhaps unbridgeable, gaps between them.

The challenge facing both governments and the leaders of both communities in Northern Ireland is to achieve a new beginning in relationships which will show up the terrorists on both sides for what they truly are - atavistic forces locked into doctrines which are profoundly contemptuous of the democratic wishes of the people they purport to champion and which translate ultimately into a self-awarded licence for indiscriminate murder. The programme of the present Irish government gives a high priority to the search for political progress and we shall pursue this goal as constructively and energetically as lies in our power, in co-operation with the British government and Northern political leaders.

The inhuman violence of the terrorists, of which the Warrington atrocity is but one terrible example, must stop. If it can possibly be said that some good should come from the murder of innocent children it will be that the deaths of Johnathan Ball and Timothy Parry reinforce the determination of politicians from Ireland, north and south, and from Britain to pursue the course of political dialogue and the eventual establishment of peace in Northern Ireland. The words of Johnathan' s father that 'this should be the last tragedy of all' have already been belied by events, but that increases rather than diminishes the cogency of his plea.

To the Ball and the Parry families I want to say how much we were moved by your words and spirit. It was not the real Ireland which plunged you into this nightmare. The real Ireland is walking in spirit behind the coffins of your sons, and wishing fervently we could do something to lessen the heavy burden of your grief, which we all share.

(Photographs omitted)