8th December 2021
Jo Berry and Pat Magee on finding healing through understanding in the aftermath of the Brighton bomb
Marina Cantacuzino talks to Jo Berry and Pat Magee about the benefits and complexities of a relationship developed over 20 years. Despite the fact that Pat killed Jo’s father, their story has become a very public conversation and a profound example of reconciliation. Jo is an international speaker, educationist and peace activist. Pat Magee is a former member of the IRA who has recently published a memoir, Where Grieving Begins.
Jo Berry is an international speaker, educationist, peace activist and founder of Building Bridges for Peace. Pat Magee is a former member of the IRA who has recently published a memoir, Where Grieving Begins.
“If Pat hadn’t been so open to listening to the impact of his actions on me and wanted to know more about my dad, then I never would have met for a second time.” – Jo Berry
“At times, it has been extremely difficult and it’s never been easy. But, we thought that there was purpose in continuing the dialogue, because we realised that it was an example of what’s achievable even despite these differences between us, these massive differences.” – Jo Berry
“It was the fact that Jo showed this willingness to listen and to explain her own perspective, a proper conversation, meant that we could continue.” – Patrick Magee
“Every time Pat and I speak in public, people come up to us afterwards and say that they are now going to do something different in their lives. They are going to reach out to someone. They are going to let go of some resentment. They are going to think deeply about what they can do in their lives to contribute to the world.” – Jo Berry
“When people see us speaking with dignity and respect, even when it’s hard and challenging, that gives them a sense of what is possible.” – Jo Berry
“We can show what happens when people demonise each other and the importance of always listening to people, even when we disagree.” – Jo Berry
“We do need to challenge people’s behaviour, but can we do it without making them wrong so that they can still choose to change.” – Jo Berry
“Well I certainly haven’t done this work to be liked! It meets a deep need in me to bring something positive out of the tragedy and to make a contribution to peace originally in Northern Ireland and Ireland and now for me, it’s the world. And, that gives me a strength and resilience and there have been times when I have faced criticism.” – Jo Berry
“Jo was a fine human being, therefore her father must have been a fine human being and I killed him. I think that, more than anything else, was the lesson I took from that first meeting.” – Patrick Magee
“We were not seen in our full humanity and that somehow in the course of conflict part of us had shut down. In response to the violence of the state we had shut down. It was impossible to see the humanity of the other people we were in conflict with.” – Patrick Magee
“I really think the only person I can actually forgive is myself and sometimes I do find that very hard, really hard on myself. Actually, Pat is really aware of that and quite often he will give me support when I am being hard on myself and help me to let go of that judgement I can have.” – Jo Berry
“I think, it’s possible to forgive people and still make them wrong, can still think that what they have done is unforgivable, but we can forgive them because we are such generous, loving people, but we don’t have to change our thinking. We don’t have to do the emotional work.” – Jo Berry
“What interests me is a place beyond forgiveness and that is about empathy and understanding and letting go of any need to change the past, letting go of any need of bitterness, resentment, letting go of any need to change someone, but just to see them who they are. And, I have experienced Pat and his story and everything he has been through in such a way that there is no judgement.” – Jo Berry
“It is a moment beyond forgiveness where I wonder if I had lived his life, would I have made the same choices and I don’t know. And, I have had that experience with every side of the conflict in Northern Ireland and it has really shown me that an “enemy”, an “other” is someone whose story we haven’t yet heard.” – Jo Berry
“How do we listen to people? We listen by letting go of judgement and I believe opening our heart so we can really, really hear people and that’s when forgiveness comes in. Suddenly, there is no need to forgive.” – Jo Berry
“For me our conversations have always been about trying to understand the situation. That might lead to forgiveness, however you want to apply that word, but it is not necessarily the point of the conversation. It is to see the other’s perspective.” – Patrick Magee
“I have never sought forgiveness. The actions I took part in, I took in full consciousness. It doesn’t mean to say though that there isn’t regret and that I carry this regret and it is a circle that can’t be squared.” – Patrick Magee
“I can stand over my actions and the actions of the movement I belonged to for decades and yet deeply regret that that conflict happened. I wish there had been another course open to us.” – Patrick Magee
“The other thing about forgiveness is that people feel that it’s a measure of how compassionate and loving they are and it puts pressure on victims to forgive. I don’t agree with that at all. I know amazing people who say they can’t forgive, because they haven’t got justice, or for all sorts of reasons, and yet they are really loving and compassionate. So, it is no measure of who we are and we cannot put pressure on victims that they have to forgive in order to move on. We all have to bring our own meaning, our own healing.” – Jo Berry
“You have got to be open to the possibility that your own story needs to be tested and examined. I think you have to be open that you could be wrong. You have to be prepared to appraise your own motivations. This goes for all sides.” – Patrick Magee
“The older I get, the less certain I am about anything apart from we all have our own story and our own truth, and we can listen to each other’s stories and see the humanity.” – Jo Berry
“It seems very, very clear that when we start feeling righteous, we are beginning to not be curious about the other person and the lack of curiosity then can turn into dehumanisation.” – Jo Berry
Marina: Welcome to the F Word – a podcast series that examines, excavates, unpicks and reframes Forgiveness through the lives of others. I am Marina Cantacuzino, a journalist from London, Founder of The Forgiveness Project Charity and I’ve built my career investigating how those who face the most complex and devastating things in life find a way through.
Each episode I will be talking to a guest who has experienced something very difficult or traumatic in their life but who rather than respond with hate or bitterness has embraced or at the very least considered forgiveness as a response to pain.
So my conversation today is with Jo Berry and Pat Magee.
Jo Berry is the founder of the charity, Building Bridges for Peace, and an international speaker, educationist and peace activist.
Pat Magee is a former IRA member, also known by the tabloids as “The Brighton Bomber”.
In 1984 Pat Magee was responsible for planting a bomb at The Grand Hotel, Brighton during the Conservatory Party Conference in an attempt by the IRA to strike at the heart of government and kill the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet. Margaret Thatcher was in fact spared but the bomb did kill five people, including Jo Berry’s father, Sir Anthony Berry, a member of parliament.
Pat was later imprisoned for fourteen years and then released under the terms of The Good Friday Agreement in 1999. Since then he has devoted much of his time to trying to promote understanding and transcend vision. He has also published a memoir, an unflinching reckoning with the past, called, “Where Grieving Begins”.
The reason we are talking today is that one of the people Pat met early on after his release from prison was indeed Jo Berry and the two have since shared a public platform roughly 300 times. It is a profound example of reconciliation, a truly extraordinary illustration of how bridges can be built and an important example of finding healing through understanding.
So, hello Jo and Pat. It’s wonderful to have you on the F Word Podcast. I am just interested to know where you are both speaking to me from today.
Patrick: I am speaking from London and will be returning to Belfast.
Jo: I’m speaking from Somerset which is where I live.
I want to concentrate in this Podcast on what it takes for two people to bridge the divide when one of them has inflicted great suffering and harm on the other and what does it take to carry on dialoguing over the years.
So, I thought to start by coming to you, Jo and going straight to the year 2000 when the two of you first met face to face and am really interested to know what was the motivation for you behind that.
Jo: I can remember how I felt in 2000 so well and I remember that I thought if I could see Pat as a human being, if I could hear some of his story, if I could see some of his humanity, then that was going to heal something in me, some harm that happened the moment the bomb went off. For me, how my father was killed was hugely important and for me to see the other, the enemy, as a human being was going to help humanise something inside myself.
Marina: Had you shared this with other people or was it something you did privately for yourself?
Jo: Very privately. I had in the year 2000 started to ask people’s advice and to be honest most people tried to put me off and there was a lot of concern about how it might set me back, how it was too early in the peace process. I do remember one or two people coming to me afterwards and saying we understand you need to do it.
But, regardless of what anyone else thought, I was just very, very determined. And, to me it was a one-off meeting and no one would ever know. I would feel better. I would learn something about myself. I would heal something inside myself and then that would be that. Never to talk about to anyone. Never to be repeated.
Marina: And instigated entirely by you.
Jo: Yes. It took a few months. It wasn’t easy because I think some people felt that it was too early in the peace process and they were either protecting Pat or protecting me. So, they didn’t want to make it happen.
Marina: So, perhaps I will just go to Pat. If you could just say a little about your motivation to meet Jo and how long was it after you had been released from prison.
Patrick: We actually met 17 months after my release. I’d heard that somebody connected to Brighton, a woman who had lost a relative wanted to meet me and this woman had met other republicans at a conference and expressed a wish to meet me.
I got the message and immediately grasped that this was something I wanted to do. And, to put that into context, even before my release a year previous, I had thought that at some point I would be meeting victims and others who we might have considered to be former enemies. So, I was already mentally prepared.
Marina: And can you remember very clearly that first meeting and describe it a little bit.
Patrick: Very much so. I was working in Dublin at the time and knew that I had to go to a certain address in another part of Dublin at 7.00 o’clock that night. A friend drove me over but it wasn’t until I was actually on the doorstep that the enormity of what I was about to do really struck home and it was a scary moment for me.
The way I thought about it, there was the vileness in the position. If I was about to meet somebody who had hurt me or someone who belonged to me, how would I act in the moment? And the thought flooded me but then when I did meet Jo, the first time I saw Jo, she seemed very, very calm and grounded and that was really the initial thought, very calm and grounded. I wasn’t getting any sense of antagonism at all, if anything, the opposite. She was friendly in the sense that she was polite and courteous.
Marina: Did you share positions? Did you share motivations? How did the conversation actually go, Pat?
Patrick: There were other people present, initially around the dinner table and I felt that I couldn’t talk in front of them. I think I was pretty scared of giving away something. I felt being no longer part of the political movement, I felt in some way I was representing them.
Well, the person who was hosting brought us out to a conservatory and it wasn’t until we were on our own that we were able to actually converse. And, the conversation started off with me doing what I thought I was there was to do, that is to explain to Jo the motivation and the context for it.
The conversation developed. It was a proper exchange. Jo was talking about her times in Ireland and at some mid-point, Jo recited a poem she had written called, “Building Bridges”. It was an amazing poem. The sense of it was that it seemed to pre-figure our actual meeting, even though the poem had been written, I think about three months previously. I think at that halfway point we started a new conversation.
Marina: And did it move from explaining your position within the IRA to being just someone who had hurt her father and who was willing to take responsibility for it?
Patrick: Well, I think that thought was in the room. I may have been going to a prearranged meeting with a political hat firmly on, but I think, as I said, that from the moment I was on the threshold of meeting Jo, something else was happening. So, I think I was open to it. I was open to the possibility.
Marina: I think that’s really interesting. I think because there was no antagonism, you were able to reach a level of communication that otherwise just wouldn’t have happened.
So, Jo, maybe you could just come back in here and if you could go back to that day, and talk a little bit about how that was for you and how that shift happened for you.
Jo: Yes. So, as Pat said he did arrive talking about the bomber’s strategy using the words “we” a lot, “we the community felt this” and it did feel like a political response, a political justification, but he did do it with some sensitivity. I was there to listen and understand and did not want to change him or blame him. And, I probably listened in a way I had never listened to anyone before, because that was called for in that situation.
And, after about an hour and a half I remember thinking I now see Pat as a human being. I see some of his humanity. I see how much he cared, but he is justified in killing my father which is difficult to hear, so I am going to leave now.
And, that was the moment there was a very, very clear change in Pat and he said the words, “I don’t know any more who I am. I have never met anyone so open as you. Can I hear your anger and your pain”? He no longer spoke from the “we”. He became much more vulnerable and human and wanted to know a lot more about my dad and it was dawning on me that he is now seeing my dad as a human being.
And, if you had asked me before, I would have said, “I would have loved that Pat would now see my dad as a human being, but that feels almost like too much to ask for” and it meant a lot to me. And, I think that sort of restorative part of the meeting led then to me wanting to meet again. And, if Pat hadn’t been so open to listening to the impact of his actions on me and wanted to know more about my dad, then I never would have met for a second time.
Marina: It is probably quite important to just go back a bit with both of you.
I wonder, Pat, if you could just share a little bit about what it was that led you to join the IRA, The Irish Republican Army, and indeed to believe that an arms struggle was the only way that could bring about a united Ireland.
Patrick: Well, I was born in Belfast but the family moved to England when I was four and from four until fifteen I was there. Those were my formative years in England, but I always felt very close to Belfast, in particular. They were my earliest and happiest memories. I wasn’t happy in England. I felt very estranged from it and very conscious of being Irish in a defensive way.
So, when things kicked off in the north and the papers and the media were full of events in Belfast, I wanted to be there to be a witness to it and I didn’t return to get involved in any sense but to be a witness to try and understand what was happening.
But, being a witness to events in the district I was living in, which was the nationalist front line, there was a change in my perspective and I began to see that this area that was occupied, was occupied by the British state. There were soldiers on the ground. There was a whole militarist environment. There were barracks around us. There were patrols of the area. There were incidents, many incidents.
And I came to the conclusion that this was a people who were being under subjugation and they were resisting that and I was determined to be part of that resistance. So it was being an eye witness to the events.
Marina: There’s a chance that there will be some people listening to this who know absolutely nothing about the politics of Northern Ireland and Ireland and the British involvement. Is it too much to ask, Pat, for you to sum it up for those who may be in other countries for whom it is a distant conflict.
Patrick: The essential reason why there is the conflict in Ireland is that Britain partitioned Ireland. And, it was partitioned in a way to perpetuate the majority British view. And, so the Catholics found themselves in a minority in this artificial state. They had no rights, lack of employment, bad housing, kept under and they resisted.
They resisted that in every decade until things really boiled over in the late 60’s because of the denial of human rights and for the movement and argument for Civil rights and eventually that boiled over into conflict. That’s why the British army was brought in. It’s often portrayed in the media that they brought in some sort of honest broker to keep the two warring factions aside. Nationalists and Republicans would argue that they were brought in to prop up the status quo.
Marina: And someone like you has been called by some a terrorist and by others a freedom fighter. Clearly, you saw yourself as a freedom fighter trying to create a united Ireland.
Patrick: I think one of the biggest battles we still have to face is this battle of narratives and the labelling that goes on and the labels that are applied are not there to educate or to enlighten they are to obfuscate and to hide the fact.
So you get a word like “terrorist” and “terrorism” applied to one side. It’s a word that can be easily applied to the actions of the British state in Ireland. I think we have to move beyond the labels. The labels are useless they get in the way of examining the truth.
Marina: Yes and I think that is very good and you talk a lot about that in your book, “Where Grieving Begins”. So thanks for that.
Just coming to you, Jo, can you describe a little bit about who you were before the Brighton bomb, before your father was killed. What sort of person were you?
Jo: I was someone who believed passionately in peace and to me the way to create peace in the world was through meditation and I spent a lot of time meditating. I read a lot about Ghandi. I was already very against violence, very against war. I remember as a child wanting the violence in Belfast to stop and I felt it all very strongly and wanted to somehow get involved.
Now, as soon as the bomb went off, then the idea of meditation went out of the window. Alright, this is the real world and meditation is never going to solve this. And so it did sort of propel me into a very different reality where I saw that people had grievances, people had reasons, people killed each other, people were killed and to change that non-violently, was a huge task and a huge journey.
Marina: Thanks, Jo. I said at the beginning that I wanted to really concentrate on looking at why the two of you continued to dialogue, because I think many people could understand that to meet once may settle some unresolved things and then maybe you both would move on with your lives. So that, Jo, you weren’t constantly reminded of the past and so that you, Pat, could keep a lower profile and not be constantly scrutinised, which I know you are, which must be very difficult, I imagine. And in your book, Pat, you say, “It’s hard to conceive of a more difficult dialogue”.
Patrick: Well, the first meeting was supposed to have been a one-off but at the end of the three hours there was a feeling that more could have been said and at each stage there seemed to be more that we could add, more things that we could explore. That might leave some people to believe that is an easy thing to do, that we have met all these times because it is an easy thing to do.
At times, it has been extremely difficult and it’s never been easy. But, we thought that there was purpose in continuing the dialogue, because we realised that it was an example of what’s achievable even despite these differences between us, these massive differences. In terms of outlook perhaps in our own histories but also the clear fact that was also present that I killed Jo’s father. We thought it could be an example for others to follow.
Marina: And it’s a very public dialogue, isn’t it. Often you are in front of large audiences, conferences…
Marina: and schools but is it also a private dialogue? Does it continue in a way behind the scenes? Is there a friendship there?
Patrick: Well, we have been in so many circumstances where it is just me and Jo for instance in Rwanda, so the conversations do continue, over 20 years now. I go back to something that we appreciated at a very early stage as I did and that is if that first meeting had been angry or there had been hostility there, I don’t believe for one second that there would have been a follow up meeting. I don’t think that would have served any purpose. It was the fact that Jo showed this willingness to listen and to explain her own perspective, a proper conversation, meant that we could continue.
Marina: I think that is definitely right but, Jo, I will turn to if you could just comment on that. And you said once, Jo, “I have been transformed through this dialogue.” Perhaps you can speak to that as well, what you meant by that.
Jo: Yes. Some big questions there like what leads us to carry on meeting. I think that for me it’s about how do I create something positive out of what’s happened. And, I know that every time Pat and I speak in public, people come up to us afterwards and say that they are now going to do something different in their lives. They are going to reach out to someone. They are going to let go of some resentment. They are going to think deeply about what they can do in their lives to contribute to the world.
So, when people see us speaking with dignity and respect, even when it’s hard and challenging, that gives them a sense of what is possible. I remember this amazing Mexican professor who heard us in Sarajevo who said after hearing us talk. “I now know what is possible. I am going to take this example to every meeting I have, every conversation”. And, he was dealing with some of the appalling violence happening in Mexico and heard that many, many times.
So, for me at twenty-seven wanting to bring something positive out of it, I feel compelled to carry on speaking with Pat, if he still wants to and of course, each time it is a choice for both of us. And more than that, because I do a lot of work on my own now and my understanding and my work has become almost bigger than our dialogue, because I apply it to different contexts in the world. And, what I have been learning I can share in many different situations.
Pat, nearly always, will listen to me in a public arena. Pat will now see my dad as a human being having demonised him and we can show what happens when people demonise each other and the importance of always listening to people, even when we disagree. And, the first time we spoke in public Pat said, “I now know I could have a cup of tea with Jo’s Dad”.
Now, the Conservative party did not have a policy of cups of tea back then at all and they don’t really have policies of cups of tea now! But to me that cup of tea is about wanting to understand, even when there is conflict and disagreement, wanting to find emotionally safe ways to listen to all the different parties and look at shared solutions which will meet the needs of all the different groups and all the different communities.
That’s why I have carried on working with Pat and as a human being, I feel I have learnt so much in myself about my own violence because we all have capacity to demonise others, to blame others, make people wrong and us right, to cut off something inside ourselves, our own humanity. So, I think it has increased my own capacity for compassion and connection and how to listen and also, how to challenge. We do need to challenge people’s behaviour, but can we do it without making them wrong so that they can still choose to change.
Marina: Yes, I have heard you both speak many times and it’s incredibly powerful and you, Jo, are hugely influential in the peace and reconciliation movement.
But, it’s a difficult and sometimes controversial discussion and while it is incredibly inspirational, I just wonder if there has been some push back. If you have had people not like what you are doing. How your friends and your family have reacted to you so publicly talking to the man who is responsible for the death of your father.
Jo: Well I certainly haven’t done this work to be liked!
It meets a deep need in me to bring something positive out of the tragedy and to make a contribution to peace originally in Northern Ireland and Ireland and now for me, it’s the world. And, that gives me a strength and resilience and there have been times when I have faced criticism.
To me that is always interesting. If people come to me and they say with emotion they really are upset about it, then I always stop being the one who is speaking and then listen and say, “I wonder what has happened to you. I can see that this is hard to hear what I am doing. Do you want to tell me your story?” And it usually leads to a very different kind of conversation.
So, I’ve got no need to justify what I have done. I am not doing this because it’s right. I am doing this because it comes from my deepest being to make a response. And after losing a loved one in a bomb, it’s not going to be like one right way to respond. Yes, I’m connected to many people who have been affected by war or genocide, terrorism, whatever we want to name it and we are all trying to make sense in meaning and recover.
Marina: Thank you. That makes total sense.
Now I am just going to ask Pat the same question. And, I don’t know if you remember this happen. The Forgiveness Project had set up a dialogue around a play that we were involved in and I had invited you to speak, Pat, and I was sort of chairing it. There were just the three of us alongside Reverend Julie Nicholson whose daughter had been killed in the London bombings and it was a few years after that.
You and I were waiting and basically, she didn’t turn up and you and I continued the conversation in front of the audience and it was fine. But she told me later that when she had come to leave that afternoon, she just couldn’t face sitting next to you, because she saw you in a similar light to the suicide bomber who had killed her child. I imagine while you would understand that completely, as indeed I did, it must be very hard to hear that, Pat? I just wonder if you could respond to that.
Patrick: Well, I remember another occasion. I think it was your inaugural lecture when Archbishop Tutu was giving the inaugural lecture and there was a panel and there was a woman from Rwanda who had lost many of her relatives maybe about fifty.
Marina: So Pat is referring here to another Forgiveness Project storyteller, Mary Blewitt, who spoke alongside him and Jo at the Charity’s first annual lecture given in London by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
50 members of Mary’s family had been slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide and her position on forgiveness was interesting in that it was quite different from that of Desmond Tutu’s, because she said the world was obsessed with forgiveness and moving on and in her experience there was no closure for a victim of atrocity without dialogue, accountability or apology.
Anyway Pat went on tell me how, Mary, had been re-traumatised that day by his presence on stage.
Patrick: At some point in the middle, I think, in response to something I was saying, she couldn’t continue and she had to leave the stage. It was a real awakening. It was traumatising and I’ve had encounters like that at times. There has been times when in response, perhaps to questions from the room, you know myself and Jo talk, and sometimes I can feel myself putting that political hat down firmly on my head and have to respond politically to specific questions about the struggle and the power imbalance.
It can be a very difficult thing for people who have been traumatised and still have memories of loss to listen to. There have been times in the dialogue with Jo where we couldn’t continue. It was hurting and that’s something we always have to bear in mind and yet we continue to meet, you know. We go away and think about these things and then meet to continue.
Marina: And Pat, would I be right in saying that the position you take, which is sometimes the hard thing for people to hear and definitely has been hard for Jo to hear, is that while you deeply regret that lives were lost, you still hold on to the necessity for violence at that time, I stress, during the arms struggle and I think some people see this as justification.
But in your book you talk about a distinction to be drawn between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. It’s just a very hard message to get across, isn’t it? People much prefer for people of course to understand, “So sorry I should never have done it. It was wrong”.
Patrick: I see this in terms of power imbalance. The state had all the power and we had none. We were denied power. That was the whole purpose of partition and, therefore, how do you correct that. Nationalists and Republicans would argue that all the means were tried and in the end we had to end up defending ourselves because we were under military attack.
Funnily enough, there are so many things, as Jo said about her own past and her beliefs that echo with me, because there was a time when I would consider myself a pacifist. And it has been a witness to what was happening on the ground, you know, changed me to that and yet I am not a violent person and I am against war.
Marina: There has to be something about losing part of one’s humanity by embracing violence and taking another person’s life.
Patrick: Well, that struck home with me during the very first meeting. There is Jo and she is listening tentatively to what I am saying and I wasn’t prepared for that, I don’t think. She is talking about her father and there were a few other things about her father and before that moment her father, he didn’t have a name. He was another Tory in that bomb.
Patrick: That’s it. And, then I began to understand that the goodness I clearly recognised in Jo must have at some level come from her father. You know that the values that she clearly had came from him. So I made this connection that I hadn’t seen before. Jo was a fine human being therefore her father must have been a fine human being and I killed him.
I think that, more than anything else, was the lesson I took from that first meeting. I have always felt that as Republicans and the Republican Movement that we were the subject of the stereotypes and abductions. We were not seen in our full humanity and that somehow in the course of conflict part of us had shut down. In response to the violence of the state we had shut down. It was impossible to see the humanity of the other people we were in conflict with.
Marina: Thank you for sharing that, Pat.
Jo, could you just say something about the difficulty of the conversations. I mean, Pat said sometimes you have had to stop talking and yet, it hasn’t been a complete barrier has it? Well, let us call it justification.
Jo: Well, Pat shared very well his own process. The way I experience our meetings is that we can both be very open. Pat can talk a lot about the loss of his own humanity. He can talk a lot about re-humanising my dad. We have had a few occasions where it has become very, very political and what’s lost then is the humanity, the personal aspect. That is very, very difficult for me.
It’s a harder journey for him because what Pat shares is that he holds now the truth that he lost some of his humanity and he killed a wonderful human being with the fact that they had no other choice because of the oppression, because of the lack of human rights that they were experiencing as a community. I think that is very, very hard for him to hold and I am always grateful for his honesty about the conflict that he has inside himself. It’s very real and there are times when I feel I need to challenge a little bit because I also have to look after myself and sometimes I feel my integrity has been affected and I need to stay true to who I am and the journey that I have had.
So, sometimes there can be a tension between my position and Pat’s position and that has led to us not speaking for a little bit. And, the opposite can happen. I can think of an amazing mediation conference where Pat felt really, really safe. People there were so, so willing in a way to ask very deep questions about the process and they really wanted to understand and I was left after that completely moved and open and feeling very emotional as well.
So, this is an emotional journey. I never know how either of us are going to feel. I never know how the audience are going to feel and there is a risk. I do trust that Pat and I will find a way to carry on because we are both honest. We are both aware so much of what each other has been through.
Marina: Thank you. Could we just sort of segway now onto forgiveness, this controversial matter, because I know, Jo, you sort of embraced the concept pretty early on didn’t you? And, you have got some really, I think, important and interesting things to say about forgiveness. Could you just share a little bit about your insight into what forgiveness is and what it means to you?
Jo: Yes. I really think the only person I can actually forgive is myself and sometimes I do find that very hard, really hard on myself. Actually, Pat is really aware of that and quite often he will give me support when I am being hard on myself and help me to let go of that judgement I can have.
In terms of other people, what is forgiveness? You know, I think, it is possible to forgive people and still make them wrong, can still think that what they have done is unforgivable but we can forgive them because we are such generous, loving people. We don’t have to change our thinking. We don’t have to do the emotional work.
And what interests me is a place beyond forgiveness and that is about empathy and understanding and letting go of any need to change the past, letting go of any need of bitterness, resentment, letting go of any need to change someone but just to see them who they are. And, I have experienced Pat and his story and everything he has been through in such a way that there is no judgement.
It is a moment beyond forgiveness where I wonder if I had lived his life would I have made the same choices and I don’t know. And, I have had that experience with every side of the conflict in Northern Ireland and it has really shown me that an enemy in other is someone whose story we haven’t yet heard and how do we listen to people? We listen by letting go of judgement and I believe opening our heart so we can really, really hear people and that’s when forgiveness comes in. Suddenly, there is no need to forgive.
Marina: That’s beautifully put. Thank you. But I think also, Jo, before you met Pat you did actually publicly talk about forgiveness, didn’t you?
Jo: Yes, back in 1985 and 1986 I actually gave my first talk when I was twenty-seven in Northern Ireland. I talked about forgiveness then and I would say I had forgiven, how important it is, almost preaching about it, and at that time I was yet to really feel the rage that would come later.
I had not begun to do the emotional work and it came very much as an idea. That’s important. I am not putting myself down for that. That was where I was at the time. A lot of my trauma was buried because I had no support and did not know how to deal with the trauma. It felt like I needed to say it and it felt like forgiveness was going to contribute to peace but it did not have the depth that I would later bring to the word.
Marina: And it had a bit of a backlash. Didn’t you get death threats about it?
Jo: I did get death threats, yes, I did. There was a headline on the Evening Standard, us holding a copy of the book, “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, and I think it was put in such a way that it definitely upset a lot of people.
Marina: As it well can. Well, thank you for that and I think, Pat, you heard what Jo said about forgiveness. It’s a complicated subject. Where does it sit with you, the whole concept of being forgiven and forgiving?
Patrick: I think the whole word is fraught with ambiguity and to be honest, I don’t understand the word. That is a word with religious connotations, etc. and for many people that is what it’s about. For me our conversations have always been about trying to understand the situation. That might lead to forgiveness however you want to apply that word, but it is not necessarily the point of the conversation. It is to see the other’s perspective…
Marina: Yes, sorry, I was going to say, I remember you once saying that forgiveness was a word that no one could agree on and I think that was so true.
Patrick: I remember having this, I have got this booklet and it was a list of definitions for forgiveness. There are thirty pages of this. You know what people have said about it from philosophy and the arts, etc. religious people and there are a lot of contradictions. And I know it can be meant completely sincerely.
I mean Harvey Thomas who was injured in the bomb wrote to me when I was in prison and offered me his forgiveness as a Christian, totally sincerely. He remains somebody I know and talked to before the meeting and I have met his family too. Completely sincerely he made that decision. He understood what he meant when using the word “forgiveness”. It’s just that it’s not a word that I share the meaning. I don’t share that meaning but it is important to him, though.
Marina: So, Harvey Thomas was the producer of the Conservative Party Conference and an Evangelical Christian, who wrote to Pat shortly before he was released from prison, saying that in the spirit of Christ’s teaching and because the Bible urges people to reconcile, he was writing to offer Pat his forgiveness.
Patrick: And I daresay that people use this word in different ways but they are all sincere about its usage. Other people say “How can Magee be forgiven”. Well, I have never sought forgiveness. The actions I took part in, I took in full consciousness. It doesn’t mean to say though that there isn’t regret and that I carry this regret and it is a circle that can’t be squared. I can stand over my actions and the actions of the movement I belonged to for decades and yet deeply regret that that conflict happened. I wish there had been another course open to us.
Jo: The other thing about forgiveness is that people feel that it’s a measure of how compassionate and loving they are and it puts pressure on victims to forgive. I don’t agree with that at all. I know amazing people who say they can’t forgive because they haven’t got justice, or for all sorts of reasons, and yet they are really loving and compassionate.
So, it is no measure of who we are and we cannot put pressure on victims that they have to forgive in order to move on. We all have to bring our own meaning, our own healing.
Marina: I think that is so important. Jo. So thanks so much for just bringing that in.
I just wanted to bring something else that really speaks to me and again, Pat, I think this comes into your book. You have talked about how Jo isn’t out to change you and you said, “We share this uncomfortableness in certitude, people cemented in their view of the world. We think we should look and appraise all the time”. And I think that goes back to your first meeting with Jo. She was there to listen and not to change you.
Can you talk a little bit about certitude and people cemented in their view of the world and how this actually leads to increased division and conflict?
Patrick: You have got to be open to the possibility that your own story needs to be tested and examined. I think you have to be open that you could be wrong. You have to be prepared to appraise your own motivations. This goes for all sides, all sides.
Marina: As a young man do you think you had a lot of certitude?
Patrick: I was firmer in views, certainly. I had very fixed views. I knew what things that I was for and the things I was against and sometimes they didn’t really go further than labels, you know. That’s what you do. You reduce things down to labels and then you apply them to yourself. It’s like wearing badges on your lapel. This is who you are.
Marina: I also think it shuts down curiosity, doesn’t it?
Patrick: It does.
Marina: Jo, does that speak to you this sense of openness and not being too fixed with how things should be?
Jo: Yes and I think what Pat has just said sort of sums up why we do this work and when Pat is speaking about the uncertainty and the change from being very certain to now being much more fluid, I can see that change in myself as well. The older I get the less certain I am about anything apart from we all have our own story and our own truth and we can listen to each other’s stories and see the humanity.
And I see the sort of fixed certainty as being one of the challenges we face in conflicts whether it’s in the family or the neighbourhood or community or in countries or in the world. And, the not knowing is about, as you said, curiosity. It’s about expanding our consciousness, expanding our understanding of the world so we can learn more. And, that openness to me is the way forward because when we are very, very fixed I believe that we want to then punish people, blame people, make people wrong because we are so attached to being right.
(If) every position that Pat talks about is valid then the solution is going to be very, very different. We are not going to hurt people for having a different opinion. We are going to want to sit down with them. We want to find the skilled mediators, the skilled restorative facilitators, the peacebuilders to come into the room and help have the difficult conversation so that a solution is about sustainable peace for everyone and meet the needs of each different community, of each different party.
And, how amazing that would have been if when Pat had been a young man and the government had changed their position and said “Let us learn, come and share your stories. What happened to you?” And that openness and curiosity could have stopped decades of hurt and violence.
So, how can we apply those lessons moving on so that is what interests me.
Marina: Yes, thank you and I heard you once say that you felt righteousness is the first step in demonising people which made complete sense to me.
Jo: It seems very, very clear that when we start feeling righteous, we are beginning to not be curious about the other person and the lack of curiosity then can turn into dehumanisation.
Marina: And, Pat, I also read in your book that The Forgiveness Project had made quite a significant impact on you. So, it would be nice to know why.
Patrick: I found it extremely beneficial reading some of the other stories from The Forgiveness Project that you have collated, war zones and experiences of people meeting those that had hurt them, etc. I began to realise something that was very important. I certainly did wonder whether the experiences I have had with Jo were unique and suddenly you have this body of evidence. All these accounts that of similar experiences of wanting and leading to the understanding of the other. I think that is hugely important.
Marina: Thank you and it is really lovely to hear you say that. That is exactly the motivation really so I am glad that had that effect because as you say your conversations with Jo has been held up as something sometimes totally unique. And, I think in one sense it is because it has gone on for so long but the fact of your dialogue is not unique. And, I think you are a model and a really good example.
Jo, is there anything you would just like to add.
Jo: I would agree. We couldn’t have had the last twenty years without the people who do believe in us and support us and you definitely would be one of our main champions. So, thank you so much.
And, thank you Pat for engaging with me for the last twenty years. I know it has been difficult at times but I really do value your trust and your commitment.
Patrick: Thank you, Jo.
Marina: And, I want to thank you both for coming on the F Word Podcast and talking to me today. It has been a really valuable and insightful conversation. So, thank you.
Thank you for listening to the F Word Podcast. To dig a bit deeper around some of the themes we have talked about do check out the show notes by going to theforgivenessproject.com/fwordpodcast. From there you can also explore The Forgiveness Project website which over the years has collected and shared many more stories of how people have transformed the darkest of situations.
I also want to invite you to join the F Word Podcast Facebook Group especially if you have more to discuss or share. Again, to find the link go to theforgivenessproject.com/fwordpodcast.
But, most of all, I hope you will join me again.