Henry McDonald, the Guardian's Ireland correspondant interviews Jude Whyte. It initially featured in the Guardian on 15 March 2014 and is republished on TPQ with permission.
|Jude Whyte lost his mother in a bomb attack on their home in 1984 in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Archive/Press Association Ima|
If Jude Whyte were to discover the name and address of the loyalist paramilitary whose bomb killed his mother he would not tell the police. He would rather the murderer felt free to speak at a "truth forum" without fear of prosecution.
Amid the furore over 187 fugitive IRA suspects secretly being given letters assuring them they would not be arrested, and Northern Ireland's apparent inability to cope with the legacy of 35 years of conflict, Whyte has stepped into the debate to suggest there should be a general amnesty for everyone – republicans, loyalists and members of the security forces – who murdered and maimed during the Troubles.
The 56-year-old social work lecturer told the Observer:
If I knew who killed my mother I would not tell the police under any circumstances. There is nothing to be gained from the police walking in now to a man who is probably in his late to mid-50s, with a family, and carting him off to jail for two years … I don't know why I feel this, but I forgive him.
His mother, Peggy Whyte, was a part-time secretary for a quantity surveyor and taxi driver, as well as a popular figure in the Ormeau Road, Holylands and Market districts of south Belfast. She died in a bomb blast outside her home in University Street on 12 April 1984. A 22-year-old police officer, Michael Dawson, was also killed by the blast.
A year earlier Peggy had comforted another UVF bomber who lay dying outside her home after the device he had planned to plant exploded prematurely.
His name was David Maitland and I remember seeing him with half his face and a hand blown off outside our door. And I also remember it was my mother who told me to go outside, get a pillow and a blanket to put around him, to comfort him while he lay there dying from his injuries. I think he was as shocked as I was that the people he had come to kill had offered him some comfort and solace in his hour of need.
Whyte said he believed the family had been the subject of a lethal whispering campaign by members of the now defunct Ulster Defence Regiment, who had patrolled the Holylands district, often stopping and searching him and his brothers, and subjecting them to sectarian abuse. It was soldiers from the regiment, he said, who had passed on bogus intelligence about the Whyte family to the loyalists.
Whyte said that the only way for families like his to find out the whole truth about what happened was amnesties for all perpetrators:
If we cherrypick the Good Friday Agreement and want to spend the rest of our waking hours finding fault with republicans, with loyalists, with the British state, we will find it: but what will any of it achieve?
I have to stress that I speak only for myself here but I believe a line should be drawn in the sand and I don't mean to demean or hurt relatives in any way by saying that. I don't believe the vast bulk of these murders will ever end up in court.
If people were offered something, some amnesty or immunity from prosecution, some of them would come forward to tell the truth. You can call it what you want but there are already de facto amnesties out there for the likes of British soldiers and policemen … there always has been. I would want to hear the truth but, let's be honest, that is not going to happen if any actor in the Troubles thinks they could still go to court, face prosecutions, go to jail. Meantime, we need to stop poisoning the body politic by having this current approach. A 'Truth Forum' that is non-adversarial is the way forward – even for the man who killed my mum.
Whyte has faced down authority before in searching for truth and justice. He was the social worker/whistleblower who helped expose the activities of the paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth in the early 1990s – the scandal that led to further widespread revelations of clerical child abuse in the Irish Catholic church.
He sits on the Victims Forum – the body set up to help the families and victims of the Troubles – and has expressed concern over the welfare even of UVF members as well as British soldiers. The lecturer said he was perplexed as to why the families and loved ones of dead British soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries were not represented on the forum.
There are ex soldiers who served here walking about the streets of London, Liverpool, Manchester who are still suffering and need help. The same goes for many of the loyalists.
Asked what his mother's attitude to his plea for amnesty combined with a truth forum would have been, Whyte said:
If there is a heaven I know my mum is up there and if I didn't express forgiveness to those that did us so much wrong she would send down a lightning bolt right away to hit me at this table.