25 February 2006

Facing the truth


Local community worker Joe Doherty has faced the widow and daughter of a paratrooper who died in the Narrow Water bombing.
The former IRA member met the two women and two former paratroopers as part of a BBC series called ‘Facing The Truth’ which brings opposing sides of the Troubles together to discuss the past.
The parties involved in the programme met in the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The programme is due to be broadcast in March.
Joe Doherty was in prison when an IRA bomb killed 18 members of the Parachute regiment in Warrenpoint in 1979.
Joe Doherty was not involved in the Narrow Water bombing, but he was willing to talk to the family of Walter Beard, who died that day, as well as one soldier who was seriously injured in the attack and another soldier who was part of the rescue party.
Joe Doherty said that when he met up with the family and the soldiers they each gave their own accounts of what their experience had been through the conflict.
The BBC approached Joe Doherty to be in the series last year. He said he wanted to be sure the show would be balanced.
“If the show was going to be a success it needed to open up dialogue between former combatants and victims and it needed to include all the parties involved,” he said.
Joe said he got a chance to explain his life and background to those he was facing, saying it was important that actions were placed in context of the time.
“I explained that I had been involved in the republican movement from 1970, I have been interned without trial and have spent a total of 23 years in prison. I believe we were living in a quasi-apartheid state. Civil rights marches were banned and people were beaten off the streets. That was the foundation for discontent within the nationalist community”.
Joe is apprehensive about how the show will be received. “I worry about what will be left on the cutting room floor because the show is only an hour long”.
Bishop Tutu asked Joe whether he had regrets. “I said no, not in a political sense, it’s difficult to reflect back on that. Certainly you regret that almost 3,000 people died,” he said.
“I did not go to war, the war came to me. In pure moral terms, of course, people shouldn’t die. But you have to qualify that. It’s not the republicans or the loyalists on the ground who were responsible. It was the environment in which we all grew up”.
Joe said it was important to listen to the experiences of the woman whose husband died in Narrow Water. “She told about how the chaplain came to tell her that her husband had died and all the trauma that she went through,” he said.
Joe was asked about the day he found out about the bombing. “I was in Long Kesh at the time and I cheered it on. I told her that it had to be put in the context of the conflict. Each attack on the British army, we saw that as part of an objective to bring us towards negotiations. At that time we didn’t think about a chaplain telling a woman her husband was dead or that he had a family,” he admitted.
After the programme had been filmed Joe went out for lunch with the two women and the two soldiers. Joe, who’s presently working as a community development worker for the Parkside Community Association, listened to their stories and then talked over lunch about the work he does with young people.
The programme was a positive step, according to Joe, and he feels that “the next step would be a truth and reconciliation process in which all parties are involved”.

Journalist:: Staff Journalist

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