Bernadette McAliskey: ‘The only reason I wasn’t killed was by chance’

Bernadette McAliskey.
Bernadette McAliskey.
  • Bernadette McAliskey survived a UUF assassination attempt in 1981
  • She is pursuing a case against the British Government
  • Her husband was also shot in the attack

The failure to deal with the past via the auspices of the Stormont House Agreement did little to allay the fears and suspicions of many victims’ and survivors of the conflict here. Whilst post-election discussions on the issue are ongoing in Belfast, no substantive detail of what the proposals are have yet come to light.

On January 16, 1981 the UFF broke into Bernadette McAliskey’s home near Coalisland and shot her and husband.

The gunmen shot her 14 times in front of her children. British soldiers were watching the home at the time but failed to prevent the assassination attempt.

Given her own experience Bernadette has very forthright views on how the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland is being dealt with.

She told the ‘Journal’: “I think if you look at Hillsborough where they’ve had a great verdict, absolutely nowhere in that whole report has anybody confused truth and justice. They have got the truth and they are now embarking on a process of justice.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again now. I believe there’s a case to be made at The Hague against the British Government. When we look at Bloody Sunday, Balllymurphy, Stakeknife and what is beginning to emerge in the loyalist community as well, there is case for war crimes. The British Government used its military to perpetuate a 40 year war here. It used its undercover secrecy to keep it going and lied with impunity about its own actions.

It is 2016, we are almost 20 years from where we were at the start

The appalling vista of discovery of just how how dirty that war was lies ahead

“When you go back and look at what was happening during the peace process, it was ambiguity. It was fudge and they hoped they’d get away with it. We have never had truth, never mind justice.

“It is important that people will tell you that the violence of the state and the violence of the IRA cannot be equated. It is not the case that one was less violent than the other, but there is an accountability to the state and a power with the state that runs to a high level of public accountability.

“The state has systems by which it can hold the IRA to the count, but the systems by which we can hold the state to account are international systems.

“The narrative and tissues of lies and re-writing of events makes it difficult to proceed to uncover the truth.

“There are people who want justice and who know they will never get it. And, there are people who have no illusion any longer that either truth or justice can be retrieved.

“There are a number of ways in which the scenario is being challenged and a number of families are courageously following their cases through the courts.

“We will see if the British Government will try and close these mechanisms down.

“My own family is involved, like many families, with Kevin Winters Solicitors. If I was not giving this interview I’d already be dead. The only reason I wasn’t killed in 1981 was chance. People were arrested coming out of our house. So it can be said that myself and my husband got justice but we have never got the truth.

“I am entitled to the truth around the British Governments involvement in trying to kill me and I am entitled to pursue it.

“So many families are tired pulling on those levers and mechanisms that exist but very few of which are taken up because of the punishment involved.

“Look at what is happening in the campaign against legal aid and this notion of ‘we need to move forward, so we can’t look into the past.’

“However, none of those perceptions have absolved the state of which Sinn Fein is now a part. The mechanism of democracy in the United Kingdom is now made up of Westminster and a number of regional assemblies one of which is governed in partnership by Sinn Fein, so in that sense they are part of that democratic interest of the United Kingdom. Now, they can either support the holding of the Government and the military to account or they are complicit in the impunity. And, just as they have been sucked into everything else they are sucked into that because they may have something to gain out of that as well, because a great many myths would be dispelled if they hold the state to impunity. The reflection of that upon themselves is something they are not prepared to countenance. And this is not least because we are a mile from 1998.

“It is 2016, we are almost 20 years from where we were at the start. You now not only have to account for the ‘Troubles’ but for that 20 year period in which you lied. So it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they tried to draw a line under it and they shouldn’t be allowed to.

“That’s like someone on a railway track saying ‘I think there’s no railway track up front because in the past somebody blew it up, but the driver saying ‘I can’t keep thinking about the past because I need to keep moving forward. Sooner or later they are going to drive into a hole. The shared interest in the new role for republicans in government, which is tragic, means they have a shared interest with the British Government in stopping the truth train, in stopping historical investigations because the appalling vista of discovery of just how how dirty that war was lies ahead.”