Photography by Brian Moody
When Sir Anthony Berry MP was killed in the IRA Brighton Bombing during the 1984 Tory Party Conference, his daughter Jo was thrown into a conflict she knew very little about. Since then she has visited Ireland many times and worked with victims and former combatants from all sides. In November 2000 she met Patrick Magee, the former IRA activist responsible for her father’s death.
An inner shift is required to hear the story of the enemy. For me the question is always about whether I can let go of my need to blame, and open my heart enough to hear Patrick’s story and understand his motivations. The truth is that sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. It’s a journey and it’s a choice, which means it’s not all sorted and put away in a box.
It felt as if a part of me died in that bomb. I was totally out of my depth but somehow I held on to a small hope that something positive would come out of the trauma. So I went to Ireland and listened to the stories of many remarkable and courageous people who’d been caught up in the violence. For the first time I felt that my pain was being heard.
In those early years I probably used the word ‘forgiveness’ too liberally – I didn’t really understand it. When I used the word on television, I was shocked to receive a death threat from a man who said I had betrayed both my father and my country.
Now I don’t talk about forgiveness. To say “I forgive you” is almost condescending – it locks you into an ‘us and them’ scenario keeping me right and you wrong. That attitude won’t change anything. But I can experience empathy, and in that moment there is no judgement. Sometimes when I’ve met with Patrick, I’ve had such a clear understanding of his life that there’s nothing to forgive.
I wanted to meet Patrick to put a face to the enemy, and see him as a real human being. At our first meeting I was terrified, but I wanted to acknowledge the courage it had taken him to meet me. We talked with an extraordinary intensity. I shared a lot about my father, while Patrick told me some of his story.
Over the past two and a half years of getting to know Patrick, I feel I’ve been recovering some of the humanity I lost when that bomb went off. Patrick is also on a journey to recover his humanity. I know that he sometimes finds it hard to live with the knowledge that he cares for the daughter of someone he killed through his terrorist actions.
In other words, had I come from a Republican background, I could easily have made the same choices Patrick made.
Some day I may be able to forgive myself. Although I still stand by my actions, I will always carry the burden that I harmed other human beings. But I’m not seeking forgiveness. If Jo could just understand why someone like me could get involved in the armed struggle then something has been achieved. The point is that Jo set out with that intent in mind – she wanted to know why.
I decided to meet Jo because, apart from addressing a personal obligation, I felt obligated as a Republican to explain what led someone like me to participate in the action. I told her that I’d got involved in the armed struggle at the age of 19, after witnessing how a small nationalist community were being mistreated by the British. Those people had to respond. For 28 years I was active in the Republican Movement. Even in jail I was still a volunteer.
Between Jo and me, the big issue is the use of violence. I can’t claim to have renounced violence, though I don’t believe I’m a violent person and have spoken out against it. I am 100% in favour of the peace process, but I am not a pacifist and I could never say to future generations, anywhere in the world, who felt themselves oppressed, “Take it, just lie down and take it.”
Jo told me that her daughter had said after one of our meetings, “Does that mean that Grandad Tony can come back now?” It stuck with me, because of course nothing has fundamentally changed. No matter what we can achieve as two human beings meeting after a terrible event, the loss remains and forgiveness can’t embrace that loss.
It’s rare to meet someone as gracious and open as Jo. She’s come a long way in her journey to understanding; in fact, she’s come more than half way to meet me. That’s a very humbling experience.