War is over ; Let it be

It would appear there are still old scores to be settled within the Northern conflict, something which was made apparent to me by a story reported in the week about an arrest made in a thirty year old killing in Armagh.

The case is that of the Celebrated/Notorious Captain Nairac, the original incidents enshrining the classic elements of Greek theatre as tragi-comic farce.

In brief, during a particularly heightened period of the Northern troubles (1977), this young buck with a string of Oxford ‘blues’ and a spell in the Queen’s Grenadier Guards, fancied a crack at infilitration of the ‘subversives’ and sought to woo the locals with a daring undercover incursion. In an act of equal audacity and innocence he made his way to the Three Steps pub in Drumintee, alone and with only a ballad song or two for cover. It wasn’t his first foray and his intuition, or more obviously, his cut glass accent ought to have given the game away immediately but undeterred he foolishly or bravely (take your pick) persisted to the end drinking with newfound bar buddies becoming increasingly more inquisitive as to the activities of lez resistance locale..

Long story short his Narcissic persona proved his undoing and the foolhardy mission met with fatal but predictable results when he was dispatched to oblivion by the local IRA unit.

Death is unpleasant, war is not a nice thing but as Pearse said, “there are some things worse than war and slavery is one of them”. Perhaps Nairac thought that too and hence he took up arms for his own country. Bottom line an armed and willing combatant was shot dead during a deliberate intelligence gathering incursion into enemy territory.

Now what purpose can it possibly serve for his assailant to be arrested and tried today? Will the SAS soldiers that shot dead an entire IRA unit at Loughall be tried and tested? What about those at Gibraltar who took down three IRA members in cold blood?

Those at Bloody Sunday may some day be tried and maybe found guilty and rightly so as an act in violation of any international standard, the murder of civilians, but in the other cases, I don’t think so. War is war, it is rough it is bloody it is unforgiving and can taketh away but it is entered into eyes wide open and should not nor cannot be subject to civil recrimination. Soldiers are trained to kill and Captain Nairac was no different.

Doubtless some petty political consideration belies this current arrest but I suggest for these and similar episodes, the past, unlike Northern Ireland, should indeed be a foreign country..

7 Replies to “War is over ; Let it be”

  1. Dan Sullivan

    So if the past is meant to be a foreign country, are you suggesting we shouldn’t have had the new inquiry into Bloody Sunday? Or is this leave the past behind business for one side only?

    I may not remember my catechism perfectly, but in order to receive forgiveness you must first confess your sins, and then ask for forgiveness.

  2. James Lawless Post author

    Thanks for the comment Dan. I explicitly mentioned Bloody Sunday above. The difference is that was civilians shot in cold blood. That is wrong in any conflict civil or military.

    For me the jury is still out though on ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ type hearings. To some extent let byegones be byegones. There have been mixed views on the South African experience.

    Assistance with finding remains is a separate matter but that can be progressed through political chanels and has been previously.

    Arresting someone 30 years on for what was plainly regarded a military engagement by both sides is unhelpful, unnecessary and does nothing for faith in the new security forces.

  3. Dan Sullivan

    See James that is where you and I would differ, I don’t believe the IRA campaign was a military engagement and that both sides can be viewed as legitimately engaged in what would be termed wartime activities. I would view it primarily as a terrorist campaign, one that came from understandable origins but still unwarranted.

  4. James Lawless Post author

    That’s a huge question and one we could debate for a long time. My view there were aspects of the campaign which were self defence ; the 1969/70 period when loyalists were engaged in sectarian ethnic cleansing literally burning families out of house and home such as Bombay street in Belfast. There were aspects that were to all intents and purposes standard military engagements such as Warrenpoint, Loughall, regular skirmishes between patrols on both sides in South Armagh. There were ocassions of horrendous carnage on all sides such as Le Mons, Greysteel or Bloody Sunday. The perpetrators and intent of some these can be argued but the results will forever live in infamy.

    Be all that as it may in the case I have discussed, Captain Nairac was a soldier who took arms of free will and at the time of his death considered himself on a mission against hostile forces.

    The Good Friday Agreement effectively recognised the political nature of the conflict with the prisoner release program and I believe this week’s arrest to be a retrograde step.

  5. James Lawless Post author

    I opened by invoking John Lennon – “War is over ; Let it be”

    His own thoughts on the conflict are worth a read here

    He also had this to say –

    If it’s a choice between the IRA and the British Army, I’m with the IRA. But if it’s a choice between violence and non-violence, I’m with non-violence. So it’s a very delicate line.

    Years of media blackout and bias helped to eclipse much of the political nature of the conflict. Criminalisation was a deliberate strategy by the Thatcher government to distort the root cause. But ten men starved themselves to death for the right to wear their own clothes. Thankfully the latter part of Lennon’s line has now been realised. The ballot box has finally replaced the armalite in full. To my mind this was the greatest achivement of Bertie Ahern’s premiership and the most significant development across the whole island the past half century. McGuinness and Paisley stood together, brothers in arms and jointly banged the gavel at the opening of the NYSE last December. Bertie Ahern and Paisley swapped swords for ploughshares before a reenacted battle of the Boyne as Dev’s grandson bequeathed money from an FF government to an orange hall. Politics at times can truly be the art of the impossible.

  6. Dan Sullivan

    The GFA sought to recognise the political nature of those offences for which people had been convicted and were serving time for. It was never meant to be a get out of jail free card for everything that happened prior to the GFA being signed. I would view the situation differently if the people involved had come forward, served time and availed for the early release and remission that was afforded prisoners. Since they didn’t, they can’t look for absolution now.

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