Oct 14, 2019

GOOD FRIDAY 2019 — I’m writing with sadness and a heavy heart. Yesterday, Lyra McKee, a young but accomplished journalist, was shot in the head in Derry, Northern Ireland. She had been observing a riot in the Creggan part of Derry. She was dead within hours. She had been a well-respected and prominent reporter on politics in the northern part of Ireland. Her murder has been claimed by the New Irish Republican Army. 

The old IRA and Provos (Provisional Irish Republican Army) had disbanded after the Good Friday Agreement that was signed by all warring factions on Good Friday 25 years ago. 

After initially blaming the Northern Ireland police authorities, which backfired, New IRA accepted responsibility, and reluctantly apologized — as part of a public relations exercise. Unfortunately, their apology did not bring Lyra McKee back to life.

Yet another casualty of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, the murder of journalist Lyra McKee may seem to have nothing to do with life on Negros Oriental in the Philippines, or anywhere else worldwide. But I suggest the violence is international in scope, with similarly perverse logic being used to justify the casual destruction of life.

I used know Derry very well. Back in 1969, while in my late teens, I observed sectarian violence and hatred fueled by British government violence against Catholics in Derry. Despite it being a lifetime removed from my current peaceful life, I remember it as if it was yesterday. Back then, I was a trainee fisherman in Moville, county Donegal. Derry was a 30 minute drive away. My first experience in Derry had a life-long impact on me. I’d just walked across the Diamond, a wide, open area downtown, when a major riot started. I hopped into my car, and was trying to get away from the madness when a British army sergeant ordered me to drive quickly in a certain direction. The machine gun pointed at my head was persuasive. But I’d no idea where I was going. Soon, I was in the Nationalist Catholic area that is still known as the Bogside. On seeing my Irish republic, or as they called it, Free State car plates, I was flagged down by local people who quickly hid my car, and generously took me into one of their homes. Over several cups of scalding tea, they laughingly told me how fortunate I’d been. Had I driven into the Protestant area just a few streets away, I’d have been killed or, at best, badly beaten, and my car set on fire, hopefully without me in it. 

There was no question about me leaving as darkness approached. These Bogsiders knew what was about to happen. The British army, who were supposed to be protecting the Catholic ghettoes, and had been patrolling, suddenly disappeared just as they had the previous night. They were replaced by the B Specials. This was an almost exclusively-Protestant policing force. On the previous night, they had come into the , and set several houses on fire. They also attacked and severely beat any locals they could find on the streets. 

Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach (leader of the tribe), which is the equivalent of President in the Philippines, went on Irish television, and proclaimed the Irish government would not “idly stand by”. But the Irish government did stand idly by. They did nothing officially. Perhaps fortunately, after truckloads of Irish army vehicles had massed at the Northern Ireland boarder, they were eventually stood down. The British armed forces, superbly trained and equipped, would have obliterated the Irish army.

Thus began the emergence of the Provos. They replaced the IRA who became known as the ‘I Ran Away’ crowd. The Provos filled a vacuum left by the IRA. And they did it well. They became a heavily-armed movement that protected Catholics from extermination. While significant financial support came from Irish America, Colonel Gaddafi from Libya was their main weapons provider. The Provos began to provide security and defense in places like the Bogside and Creggan estates, and other Nationalist ghettoes across the province. While Derry and Belfast were the main centers of influence, rural areas with a strong nationalist tradition, especially in counties bordering the Irish Republic, also became strongholds for the Provos.

After the British government of Maggie Thatcher introduced interment without trial, all hell broke loose. I won’t go into any specifics here, other than to say a generation of children, both Catholic and Protestant, grew up knowing nothing but fear and violence in their lives. Eventually, all sides of the political and cultural divide became exhausted from the endless death and destruction. That was when the American presidency became critical to facilitating lasting peace to that tortured little island. Without the power of the America, the Good Friday Agreement would never have happened. 

When it was signed 25 years ago, the Good Friday Agreement was a triumph for diplomacy, and a shining example of the good America can do for our troubled world. With the possible exception of the Easter rebellion of 1916, the Good Friday Agreement was the most significant event in 20th century Irish history.

But now the peace process is seriously at risk. The political giants, both Catholic and Protestant, are now gone, and another vacuum has been created. I’ve no way of knowing what the actual strength of the “New IRA” is, or what support it has in the Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. Perhaps a glimmer of hope is that new graffiti has appeared in several parts of Derry saying, “Lyra McKee’s killing was not done in my name.” That would never have happened in previous times. It’s impossible to know what will now happen in Ireland. All will be revealed in the fullness of time. 

Unfortunately, Lyra McKee’s killing in Northern Ireland is but a symptom of a worldwide malaise. Only last week, we saw the destruction and maiming of hundreds of lives in Sri Lanka, yet another former British colonial possession. The group that claimed responsibility (it always sounds like a boast) was ISIS. They claimed the mass murders were done because of the recent killing of Muslims by one deranged man in Auckland, New Zealand. Their claim is utter nonsense. After their recent defeats in Syria and elsewhere, ISIS simply used the Auckland massacre as a pretext to show they are still a relevant force for death and destruction. Look at us, they gleefully shout, we can still murder and maim at will. And allegedly in the name of their almighty God. It’s sickingly perverse.

This evil disregard for the dignity of human life can also be found here on Negros, this island of the gentle people. Murder of the innocents has become accepted as a normal occurrence. That’s the most frightening aspect. The murders of significant individuals such as Dr. Avelex Amor, and the Deputy Chief of Police in Guihulngan, Board Member Miguel Dungog, and broadcaster Edmunt Sestoso, represent but a small number of those so casually cut down because of hatred, personal animosity, and for political reasons. Most telling of all, there is no accountability for crimes committed, arrests are few, while conviction and imprisonment are rare.

Violence exists everywhere on our planet where poverty, social injustice, and religious intolerance prevail. Anything built on hatred or violence never lasts. This is history’s lesson. I now have what is admittedly a preposterous notion: Consider beginning today, we set aside just one century devoted to love, mutual respect, acceptance of all religions faiths, all political beliefs, all cultures, all forms of sexuality. Then consider the impossibility for hatred, for acceptance of any form of intolerance. Never during that magical century would a mother’s heart be broken as she holds her lifeless murdered son or daughter. Unparalleled creative works in art, music, and literature would undoubtedly flourish. As a former musician from Liverpool once wrote, “You may think I’m a dreamer, well, I’m not the only one.”

Now wake up, and do a reality check. Homo sapiens is a primitive, insanely-destructive species. Our real drug of choice is death and violence. At this stage of our evolution, we are incapable of love and tolerance on a local, let alone, international scale. But despite all the madness, the insanity, there still are individuals who occasionally float to the surface and provide us with fleeting glimmers of hope. 

These flickering beacons prove it’s possible to have a consciousness that transcends all limitations. It is from them I take a semblance of hope. I also find solace and hope in the smiling faces of the beautiful children up in the mountains near my Negros home. On some level, I recognize my naivete but it’s impossible to despair, impossible not to have hope when observing the inner beauty and outer joy that radiates from these precious spirits.