by the Rev. Dr Gary Mason
East Belfast Methodist Mission
On the 23rd October 1993 I stood outside the Mater hospital on the Crumlin Road in Belfast with my arms around Alan McBride whose wife Sharon had just been murdered by an IRA bomber in the Shankill bombing. His words still echo in my mind, “She’s gone, she’s gone.” I had gotten to know Alan and Sharon while doing theology at QUB and one of my ministerial placements was at their home church as I trained to be an ordained minister. I had read the scripture reading at their wedding a few years earlier to that fateful October day. That evening of the 23rd October I was at the bedside of Wilma McKee a few hours before she died another victim of the Shankill IRA bomber, Wilma just 38 years of age had been relieved by the news she was clear of cancer just 24 hours before her untimely death. As I left the side hospital room I met her family clinging to any sort of hope I could offer them in a catastrophic situation, I can still close my eyes and see the raw pain on their faces in that hospital corridor. I got home that evening late having been out all day comforting those caught up in that nightmare and I cried myself to sleep. I know better than most about bombers.
I know the awful devastation that IRA bombers and indeed any bomber can visit on the lives of the innocent. I conducted the service of the most famous UVF bomber turned peacemaker and loyalist politician David Ervine in January 2007. We became good friends.
Almost by accident I got caught up in the furore that has surrounded the visit of the Brighton bomber Patrick Magee to the East Belfast Mission’s Skainos site on Thursday evening past. The event was not organised by East Belfast Mission, Skainos or I, but by another group the 4 Corners Festival, a Christian festival held to promote Christian unity across the city of Belfast.
I felt however that the event painful as it was to some should go ahead, peacemaking is incredibly risky. Those who protested outside East Belfast Mission may or may not have sat at the bedsides of those dying from bomb injuries or sat at the bedside of the late David Ervine as he breathed his last breath, the bomber turned peacemaker. I know better than most about bombers.
In a sentence if you ask me why Patrick Magee was allowed on the premises of East Belfast Mission in the loyalist heartland of East Belfast, it is simple I do not want anymore Patrick Magee’s.
I know bombers; I know firsthand the pain they can inflict and as a follower of Jesus Christ if a controversial dialogue stops anyone else ever planting a bomb on this island I am going to dialogue and take risks for peace.
To those protestors outside the Mission this may seem strange, but most of you were quite young, you have I hope an amazing future ahead of you free I hope from bombers. I do not want to be visiting you as a clergy person in a bloodied bed or conducting your funeral in a few years time, the victim of a dissident bomber. The site you stood on to protest was the site where the British secretary of State Dr. John Reid met the Loyalist Commission in July 2002, to pave a way forward for loyalists to embrace the peace process. It was the site where the late David Ervine was buried from in January 2007 and also the site from where the UVF and the RHC did their decommissioning statement in June 2009. It was the site where Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh came in March 2008 to commend the work of the loyalist East Belfast community.
I also hope that it may be the site that took a risk in listening to an IRA bomber who maybe just maybe will speak into the lives of young Republicans who may want to be dissident bombers and ask them to think about another way. You never know to those outside protesting last night, maybe this event just saved your lives from a future dissident Republican bomber.
I hope so, because as a Christian minister who has spent 27 years working in the inner city of Belfast never more than 200 metres from an interface, through some of the most savage acts of this conflict, I want your young life’s to be free from bombers. The words of dialogue however difficult are never as loud or as damaging as the bombs that have bloodied this place for decades.