A former Provisional IRA man from Derry who renounced his involvement in the organisation says that politicians from right across the community should resign from Stormont for the secret part they played in the ‘Troubles’.
Shane Paul O’Doherty joined the IRA following Bloody Sunday and later went to London to send letter bombs to politicians. But he began to have doubts when his victims – many secretaries or staff he had not targeted but were blinded or lost limbs – gave evidence at his trial.
He was handed down 30 life sentences and while in solitary confinement he began to study the Gospels and experienced religious conversion.
Last week he told his story afresh in an RTE documentary. A former IRA colleague contacted him recently and “slagged him off” for the 1978 front page story in the ‘Derry Journal’ where he resigned from the IRA from his English prison cell “and called on the IRA to stop the war”. But the IRA man in question told him he is “still working through” his own repentance and hailed Shane for being so far ahead of his time.
“I don’t ever forget the victims and I am aware of their feelings in my daily life,” said Shane, who now works with the homeless in the Republic of Ireland.
He is aware that prisoners can serve their sentences and move on in life “but that the victims’ situation does not change radically”.
As for his own repentance, he says: “It is not a done deal. You package it up and put it away but it is imperfect and you keep an eye on it. It is recognising the Lordship of Jesus Christ in my life.”
As to how Northern Ireland should best move on, he is uncompromising.
“Peace starts in the heart, based on grace. Then a lot of what flows from that contributes to the public good.
“I am horrified at former paramilitaries publicly claiming victory and causing deep offence to victims.
Peace starts in the heart, based on graceIf they had the application of repentance they would avoid high office-Shane Paul O’Doherty
“I wonder do loyalist and republican paramilitaries understand what impact they are having. Loyalists lead contrasting public and private lives and are involved in protection rackets and drugs while republicans are parading about and lecturing about the past and claiming victory. In war there is no victory.
“It is deeply offensive for such people to seek high office and higher remuneration. If they had the application of repentance they would avoid high office and live more humble lives as many of their victims have to do.”
He slams the behaviour of the “two-party system at Stormont”.
“They will not let go of the power of the past. They do not have the energy of repentance.
“Someone should hang a big sign over Stormont saying ‘Repent’ so that everyone going in would see it. Then I might be less cynical.”
“This would also have a huge impact on young people disillusioned with politics.”
Since his conversion in 1978 he says around two ex-IRA men a year have contacted him to ask for spiritual help. His first comment to them, he says, is ‘repentance in its myriad ways is the only way out of the past’. “Paramilitaries on both sides may consider this to be a laughing matter but it is the cornerstone of my life.”
And he claims that many former IRA men contact him on a regular basis to discuss their mental state and seek guidance on repentance, prayer and forgiveness and have “really detailed” discussions about their victims.
Many wish to find “forgiveness from God” before they die.
But the ex-IRA men he knows will not come forward to apologise to their victims until such times, he says, as everyone responsible for murder faces equal sanction.
He includes in this the soldiers who shot dead civilians on Bloody Sunday and middle-class unionists and nationalists who secretly supported terrorism during the ‘Troubles’ but have now moved on with apparently no guilt.
“I am sick sore and tried of 18-years-olds being hung out to dry for pulling the trigger while the 100 people behind each one of them go free. It is totally hypocritical.”
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was killed by the IRA, said she was initially impressed with Mr O’Doherty’s story in the recent RTE documentary.
However when she later heard him on RTE radio her doubts grew. “It seemed that he was very blasé about the impact his firebombs had in destroying businesses in Derry and the injuries his letter bombs caused,” she said.
She asked whether he would join the IRA again if he had to live his life again. He said he would not and that all former paramilitaries he knows feel the same; all violence from all sources “was absolutely horrific and to be condemned”.
“My work now is to prevent even one person every taking up the gun again,” he added.