Ensuring Our Children's Future Is Not Our Past: Former Members Of British Army And The PIRA Come Together To Learn Lessons Of Their War

Mick Hall with a piece on a  Coiste na n-Iarchimí event which brought former republican and British army combatants together. Mick Hall is a veteran Marxist activist and trade unionist who blogs at Organized Rage.

A minority of Irish republicans still claim there can be no peace and reconciliation between former members of the British army and the IRA while the English crown still holds part of the island of Ireland. However this is a minority position today with most former volunteers supporting the peace process and the overall strategy of Sinn Féin.

By coming together for talks, two groups of combatants who fought each other in the north of Ireland's long war clearly disagree. Coiste na n-Iarchimí, a Belfast-based support group for former republican prisoners of war hosted a visit to the north by members of Veterans for Peace UK, the British branch of a US anti-war group for former members of the British military.

Sadly almost all wars are fought in the front line by working class people, and this was especially true of the war these men fought. The PIRA was almost exclusively recruited from the working class areas of the north and south of Ireland, and the members of the British army whom they fought came from council estates not dissimilar to those the volunteers they opposed lived on.

Although in the squaddies' case their officer core unlike the IRA's came from the middle and upper middle classes.

I have no doubt if the forefathers of the British soldiers in the video below had the misfortune to have foreign soldiers on their streets, often abusing their friends, families, and neighbours, they too would have reacted as ferociously as the former IRA volunteers.

Last month a small group of men from these two groups came together in the north of Ireland in an attempt to overcome the formidable barrier of hate that remains long after their war ended. As the Guardian reported:
Four former members of the British army and four former members of the Irish Republican Army commenced a meeting that was intended to start a process of reconciliation among men who had once been the most implacable of enemies in the hope of "ensuring our children's future is not our past" as one of the men said. Another said: “It’s very important that we should do this. We should try to learn from what happened here, in order to help to promote peace in the future. Sometimes it is important to walk in someone else’s shoes for understanding in order to bring about reconciliation. I feel lessons can be learned from the past conflict here in Ireland, by talking and engaging in an open and honest way, lessons which could be useful in other parts of the world. We made mistakes in dealing with conflict. These mistakes should now never be repeated anywhere in the world: that’s why I welcome this engagement between former enemies.”
 In the video one of the IRA men said they had not gone to war; the war came to them. Each spoke about having witnessed Bloody Sunday, or seen nationalists being brutalised by the RUC and B specials in 1969 and the early 1970s.

One said he first joined Na Fianna Éireann, the youth wing of the PIRA in the early 70s, “and when you were 16 you went into the army”. His former comrades all agreed. All four had spent time in prison, Two of whom served very long sentences. They are now all involved with a Derry ex-prisoners support group, Tar Abhaile

All the former members of the British army who were in the video have evolved into anti imperialists since leaving the military. Whether more of their former colleagues would be willing to make the same journey time will tell. 

Although I find it very telling when asked why they were fighting, shortly before they were withdrawn, serving soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq replied for my mates in the section, not one said for Queen and Country.

 The video and some of the info for this piece was taken from here.

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