Mary McArdle is appointed as Special Advisor to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Belfast (54 degrees North, 5 degrees West) and a public outcry ensues. Sinn Féin, the political party involved, is accused of arrogance and insensitivity in making this appointment. Anne Travers, sister of Mary Travers who was killed by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in 1984, condemns the appointment, saying it re-opens old wounds and asks her and her family to compromise yet again for the good of The Peace Process.
Mary McArdle was a member of the IRA unit that killed Mary Travers and wounded her father, Tom Travers, a judge and the primary target of the attack, as the family walked home after attending Mass at their local church.
Both Catholics, the two Marys are joined by this extraordinary historical event, one as victim, the other as perpetrator. But for this event, it is unlikely that their paths would have crossed given the residential and social divisions of Belfast.
The two Marys are brought together again at the end of the month of May 2011, by the outcry that has arisen. Bluebells carpet woodland floors, delicate blue skies appear shyly and pearly eggshell light leads us into long evenings. It is a tragic irony that May, the month of Mary, long celebrated in the Marian cult and the Mariology historically famous in Catholic Ireland, should be the month when these wounds re-open.
Twenty seven years after the killing, Mary McArdle sets to working in a regional administration of the United Kingdom as did Tom Travers in 1984. The character of that administration has changed significantly. Working for that administration is no longer a widely supported rationale for summary execution, though dissident republicans are targeting members of The Police Service, particularly Roman Catholic ones.
The furore around the appointment, argued by some to have been media generated, displays the gulf between the political class and the general population. The simplistic notion that an all-embracing line can be drawn under the past is exposed as seriously flawed. The conflict resolution imperative of ensuring the political project is advanced by committed, experienced and determined people requires that political ex-prisoners in conflict situations across the world, from South Africa to Ireland, from Israel to Nicaragua, are involved.
Consistency rather than arrogance is at play. Civil servants in the current administration's Department of Justice previously served in the Northern Ireland Office in the period of the conflict when collusion between state forces and loyalist paramilitaries was widespread, both by acts of commission and omission, as specifically noted in the recently reported case of the killing of the solicitor Rosemary Nelson. The President of Ireland invites leading loyalist paramilitary figures to a state commemoration honouring Irish people who served in British Forces in the World Wars.
These are not viewed as instances of arrogance. They are acknowledged as highly sensitive but necessary moves in the process of reconciliation and peace-building. However, as the political class creates new realities, it does so without the assurance that the general population is accommodated.
The Woman, the political ex-prisoner, in the play Waiting.... (Dave Duggan, Sole Purpose Productions, 2000) says:
You're wrong. I felt every thing. Everything I learned. Everything I saw, everything I knew. I felt it all. That's why I acted. In history. In time. And now history and time have stopped, as if they were cogs in a great engine turning the century and I stuck my little finger in there. So they're stopped. And I'm waiting.
Re-starting history involves acknowledging the legacy of the past, both the myriad individual experiences and the over-arching collective narratives. Though the political class has a role in this – they are currently sitting on a viable approach known as The Eames-Bradley Proposals – this is essentially a social matter to be created by citizens at local and community level.
The Man, who's wife The Woman blew up, tells her:
I'm a survivor. I survived. Through all the pain, anguish, hurt, grief, history, time and blood. I survived. That's my legacy. Your legacy too.
The story of the two Marys brings this legacy into the sharp focus of early summer light as the longest day of the year approaches suddenly.
Note: The text of the play Waiting.... is available in Plays in a Peace Process by Dave Duggan, (Guildhall Press, 2008).