The publication of the Saville Report left a great many people in this island luxuriating in self-righteousness. At last a British government had come out and said: "We were guilty without any doubt in the world and we are profoundly sorry." This admission came after events that took place in Derry in 1972. In the meantime we had seen the Widgery Report, a pathetic attempt at a cover-up. This was the official policy of the British government at the time: it exonerated their soldiers and their commander from all guilt. It fooled nobody.
The big question wasn't asked. Why were paratroopers entrusted with the control of a peaceful parade? It is well-known that paratroopers tend to shoot first and shoot again afterwards and be responsible to nobody. The names of the guilty individuals were well known and so was that of their commanding officer. Seemingly there was no punishment or no blame to anybody.
All this illustrated a very old saying: there are three kinds of intelligence in descending order -- human and animal and military. The carnage on Bloody Sunday was carried out in momentary madness. The carnage in Belfast on Bloody Friday was cold and deliberately planned. No-warning bombs were planted all over the city. Of course there was no apology.
Will the Provisional IRA (PIRA) now put up their hands and admit that they were guilty of cold-blooded murder in Enniskillen, Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Canary Wharf, Harrods, Warrington and many other places . . . of course they won't. Anyway if they could, who would be their spokesman? It could hardly be Gerry Adams, because, as we all know, he was never in the PIRA. He was in the Army Council, but that wasn't quite the same thing.
Will he now throw away the pretence that he was never in the PIRA and admit to being guilty in the context of Jean McConville's death and that of Jerry McCabe, not to mention the many other foul deeds in about 30 years?
About a few months ago we heard Martin McGuinness say that every bomb and every bullet militated against the concept of a united Ireland. It took him a long time to learn. Will he admit now that the whole bloody campaign that caused so much death and suffering was misconceived and that he is ashamed of his part in it?
Let us be honest about it: a great many people in the Republic didn't worry unduly about the bombings or about the outrages at Enniskillen and in Britain. The bombs planted in Omagh evoked a different reaction: the dead included Catholics, and at last we saw the evil that was at large in the land.
There are other people who must come out and confess that they were guilty of allowing our territory to be a base and a safe harbour for the PIRA. Very few people in the Dail ever complained about this because they were watching their votes, ones they had bought with blood money. We in the South in general owe a great apology to our fellow Irish men, the Protestants of Northern Ireland.
In varying degrees the people of this island have come through a horrible generation during which life no longer seems sacred and freedom of speech was put on hold. During that time you would be reminded fairly often about freedom of speech: "You need to be careful where you say that." It happened now and then that somebody who had been expressing his views in a pub was assaulted after he had come out. This was the kind of freedom that the PIRA brought us. Hopefully, the worst is past, but you cannot be too sure.
Our governments, and they were all the same, cannot deny that they facilitated the Americans in the invasion of Iraq. It was called a war but it was an invasion and nothing else, immoral and illegal. The good people of Iraq had to suffer over the attack on the Twin Towers, a strike in which they had no hand, act or part. The invasion began with a week's bombing of Tehran, an ancient city and a seabed of civilisation.
The worst obscenity of all came with the public humiliation and the public execution of Saddam Hussein. He was an evil tyrant but he was a human being. For some time before his planned execution, we in this country knew all about it, but our heads of Church and State were silent. In a similar way now they are silent in the case of the woman who was to be stoned to death in Iran. Even at this late stage we should protest. Barack Obama is now facing two tortuous questions. How can he get out of Iraq with some measure of honour and how can he get out of Afghanistan without being seen to have totally failed? He has some hope in the context of Iraq but hardly any in the context of Afghanistan. In the latter case he can only quote the Roman historian, Tacitus, who said of his own people: "They create a desert and they call it peace."
When NAMA was first mooted, I referred to it in this paper as VIETNAMA, and so it has turned out to be. The people who got the money from the banks and who bought property and who acquired a fair amount of wealth are not going to give it back. The Government is facing a flood of legal actions. People are very slow to give back money even though they owe it. There are all kinds of subterfuges by which the demands can be frustrated. Already the Government admits that the amount got back is far less than expected. In short, NAMA has failed, as a great many people predicted it would. It appears the banks gave optimistic, instead of accurate, information and the repayments haven't worked out.
The trouble with the two Brians and Mary Coughlan and the rest of the Cabinet and their advisers is that none of them ever managed even a sweet shop in a little village.
Fogra: Best wishes go to my neighbour across the hills, Michael Noonan, on his brave fight back from personal sadness and political obscurity