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Jo Berry and Pat McGee - Building Bridges

Interview by Iain McNay.

Iain: Hello and welcome once more to Conscious TV. I’m Iain McNay and today my guests are Jo Berry and Pat McGee.

And they both have a real story to tell. They work in the area of conflict transformation and reconciliation and their lives were brought together by a very dramatic event in 1984, when some of you based in the UK will remember that there was a bomb that exploded at the Brighton hotel where the Conservative Party broadcast was taking…the Conservative Party Conference was taking place and Jo’s father, Sir Anthony Berry was killed in that explosion and Pat was later imprisoned for planting the bomb basically.

So, their lives were brought together from very opposite directions and they now work together in conflict transformation and reconciliation and it’s something that interests me personally. I think it’s a very important thing that we see that conflict from extremes can be brought together and it’s something that can happen on many different levels. We will go into that later on in the program how, conflict comes up in all of us every day and it’s how we react and respond and deal with that, that’s the important thing.

So we are going to start with you Jo, with your life if you like. You were quite a happy, go lucky teenager I think. Very kind of adventurous and at 15, I know you felt that you were drawn to travel. You wanted to go to India and you did eventually go a few years later to India.

Jo: Yes…yes as a teenager I was very interested in the things that weren’t taught at school. So I met a lot of people who showed me another way of living, and I ended up spending time with some hippies who’d just come back from India and lived in a squat near where I lived. That opened up to a whole new world in my life and I just remember every one I met I just wanted to ask them, ‘Why were they alive? What’s it about for them?’ I was interested in the meaning behind the material life and I read a lot of Jung at fifteen and I was influenced by the sort of mystic… kind of East. So, I had this idea that I was going to go to India from about fifteen, sixteen.  Eventually I went there. I must have been about twenty-two when I first went there and it was a very, very important time for me. I was interested in the teachings of Mahatma Gandi and thought a lot about what non-violence was. I also started meditating and discovered a part of me that was stronger than my conditioning and my upbringing and connected me to other people and so became a spiritual person and sort of followed my own impulse and it took me through some very different places.

I remember my dad, who was always really accepting of me and he would say, ‘Jo, I understand that you’re a little bit different, you’re doing your own thing but how am I going to explain you to my friends? What shall I say?’ and so we would talk about how we could package it in a way, how they would understand. He was, always really, wanting to support me and I remember in ’84, he’d just come back from Rwanda and he said, ‘ I think I now understand you because I’ve met people in Rwanda,’ (and they were missionaries). He said, ’They were there because of something greater than them and I can see that you’re motivated by something beyond materialism and therefore I do understand you.’ He was very pleased with himself that he’d managed to find that kind of understanding.

For me it was like the first bridge I built though he was a Conservative politician and I was a spiritual meditator. We were both committed to peace and he would say to me the reason why he was a Tory MP was because he wanted to help people and the world and bring peace into the world and though we had what seemed to be very different methods we could share and connect with that.

Iain: So in a way, you were looking for peace through meditation and the inner and he was looking to try and find peace through politics.

Jo: Yes, we had that, that realization…I felt very close to him in the summer of ’84 and spent a lot of time with him and gave him a lot of support because he was having a very hard time and we sort of moved beyond father daughter to being friends, which was very special to me.

Iain: Yes and it was really ice to hear him recognize this free spirit in you.

Jo: Yes he recognized it because he did say…about two months after he was killed I got a letter from him, that had gone to India and then come back to London, and there was a line in there which was, ‘I do worry about you when you’re so far away and you get ill but I do support you and I worry about you because I love you.’ So it was a very understanding fatherly approach.

Iain: Yes…yes…okay. So, if we move to you Pat in your childhood. You were telling me earlier on the phone that when you were young, you went to church regularly. You were in the church choir and you actually enjoyed the singing in the church choir, and although you weren’t necessarily a strong religious person, there was something about the church that attracted you.

Pat: I would have been an altar boy and a member of the choir and I’d have served at the High Mass on the Sunday and often before I went to school in the morning I would have served High Mass. It was quite a big part of my life and social life growing up…I’m talking about nine and ten, perhaps even eleven.

Iain: And your family were all strong Republicans I think, weren’t they on both sides of the family?

Pat: Actually Republicanism or Irish background wasn’t…didn’t feature very strongly when I grew up but if you skip a generation to my parents, parents, my grandparents on both sides, would have been quite heavily involved in the conflict, for example, during the 1920’s, and would have went to prison. They’d been interned because of their activities.

Iain: Yeah. I was reading actually…..I didn’t know this but in the 1920’s they had an internment ship and I think your, at one time, one of your grandfathers and two of your great-uncles were on that ship.

Pat: The Argenta was moored in the Belfast lock and then eventually brought closer to Larne Harbour and it was a very big settlement, prison encampment….and extremely harsh conditions and Joss Mcgee, my grandfather, my paternal grandfather would have spent, I think it was about eighteen months interned and two of my great-uncles would have been on the ship at the same time as….

Iain: We should make it clear that this was actually imprisonment without trial.

Pat: Imprisonment without trial. Yes.

Iain: So it’s saying, we think you are a bad person. We’re going to put you in prison. This is not where you go to a court and you’re found guilty and put in prison for a crime.

Pat: There would have been allegations made but there would have been no proof to substantiate the allegations, but on the basis of the word of an Inspector in the RUC, Royal Ulster Constabulary, an Internment Order would have been issued.

Ian: Okay and then when you were quite young you moved to Norfolk in England?

Pat: At the age of four my Dad found work in Norwich and brought us all over. From four until I returned to Ireland when I was nineteen, I lived in England and Norwich and London.

Iain: And I think you went back to Ireland, kind of as a ……to see what it was like over there didn’t you? Just to…because the troubles had started there and you wanted to experience it and see how you felt about it.

Pat: Well, I always had this great affinity with home. I always considered Ireland to be home, Belfast to be home. In a way I never really felt comfortable in England. I always felt the outsider there and there was a lot of contact with home. Relatives would come and visit us, stay with us in England. We occasionally, when money was there, would have returned to Belfast to stay. So it was a big part in my upbringing.

And then when things started to happen in Ireland, I was naturally drawn to try to understand more. I wanted to be a witness to what was happening on the ground and that led me to return to Belfast at the outset of the troubles.

Jo: (Turning to Pat). When you were about fifteen didn’t you get very interested in Martin Luther King?

Pat: At that particular time we had so much happening in the world and we felt a part of that as the younger generation. You felt a part of these events that were happening. It was like a sweeping away of the Old Order and so what was happening in Prague and what was happening in the southern states of America….and for me Martin Luther King exemplified all of that spirit and then when the civil rights movement began in Ireland, there was a clear parallel there.

Iain: And then obviously the civil rights movement was influential in terms of taking things on to another level of commitment, you decided to join the IRA, the Irish Republican Army at some point and became an active volunteer I think?

Pat: Well… I think I said, that I returned to be a witness to what was happening but it was to learn what was happening. It was so confusing and I didn’t have a fixed position on it. I suppose I came…my political thing would have been quite radical. I would have considered myself to be someone of the Left. You’d have had Cha Guevara in your back pocket….and then…but more than that and the ideas,  it was just being a witness to the communities responding to the oppression around them was a deeply moving experience for me and I think I wanted to be part of that resistance but to what extent that I could contribute, I didn’t know at the time. It took me a while to get my mind around that.

Iain: I think it was one of the things I read that you said, was the community was really important to you and you liked the way the Republican community looked after each other.

Pat: It was very strong, the communal networking and I think the Republican movement as such was the backbone, the core, the heart of those communities. They provided the leadership and they kept the flame going at many different levels. So, for example; great poverty in those areas and when friend s in America would have sent clothing over, it would be Republicans distributing clothing around the districts…so at many different levels and that’s just one example. And you felt that the whole community was involved at some level or other, different levels of committment and all contributing. You felt that you needed to contribute yourself. I felt a great need to be part of that struggle.

Iain: And then, at some point you were interned and put in prison without trial and you were there, I think for two and a half years?

Pat: Two years, five months.

Iain: You did a lot of thinking when you were in prison and when you came out you were clear on a certain course of action.

Pat: I think I was. I thought I knew my own mind before I went, before I was interned, but the years spent in internment were so intense. A lot of time for reflection, introspection and listening..a lot of clever people. People often referred to the Longkesh, the internment camp, as a university. It felt like that to me. I suddenly began to learn how to focus and how to study and how to read, and by the time I was released, I was very sure what I wanted to do and it was to go back and play a full part, as much as I could in the struggle.

Iain: Okay. So obviously, we don’t go into details of what actually went on in Brighton but you were involved in the bombing at Brighton and you were later convicted for that. Just very briefly, how did you get to that extreme? It’s one thing to be involved, it’s one thing to have a committment….to actually be in a situation where you’re putting a bomb in a hotel, which you know is probably going to certainly injure, if not kill people. Just tell us briefly the point you got to, why…how you got to that point of doing that extreme act?

Pat: I was involved in the IRA for a long time and it was another operation. It was an important operation but it was part of a campaign and I was committed to that campaign. It was a prestigious target and I’m sitting beside Jo….. Jo might find this uncomfortable to be talking in these terms because her father was…died because of this. I saw Brighton as just another target in a campaign and one Brighton wasn’t going to achieve our ends. I was committed to operating in England for years after that and in fact I was arrested eight months later on another operation.

Iain: Okay. I’m now going to come back to you Jo. So, obviously the bomb goes off and how did you hear that your father had been killed and what was your initial response?

Jo: I was about to go off on another adventure and I’d let my flat in London and I was staying with my twin sister, with my rucksack packed. I think I was gonna go on the 14th, so two days after I had a flight to Nairobi. I was gonna spend a couple of years in Africa.

So that morning my twin sister woke me up and said she’d heard on the news that a bomb had gone off at the Grand Hotel and she said to me, ‘Is that the hotel that dad is staying in with Sarah, our stepmother?’ and I said I thought it was, and this would have been about six in the morning, but I wasn’t sure. So, we had to find out whether it was that hotel, what was happening, were they okay and this was way before mobile phones and just trying to find someone to ring was very, very difficult. Eventually we found my brother, who was living in Brighton and we woke him up and he said it was the Grand Hotel they were staying at. So that was the first confirmation and he said he would go to the hotel and ring us up from a call box.

So, he rings about two hours later to say that the room that dad and Sarah had been staying in didn’t exist anymore and that there was chaos around the hotel. He’d seen friends of dad and he’d asked them and nobody knew, it was impossible and he was going to the hospital. Then he rang from the hospital to say that he’d found my stepmother who was injured, and so we just waited, and waited, and waited and eventually about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we heard the news that…from my brother, that they’d found the body of our dad, and that we were to go straight away and pick up our half-brother and half-sister from their boarding schools and tell them that their dad was dead and their mother was injured.

I remember thinking I can’t get in the car and go and drive…yet! I walked the streets of Notting Hill Gate and I was trying to tell myself that he was dead. I remember just going down the road, ‘My dads’ dead, my dad’s dead!’ There were two builders high up on a building and they yelled down, ‘Can’t be that bad, give us a smile,’ and I turned up to them and said, ‘It is – my dad’s been killed.’….and carried on walking and went back to my sisters and we got in the car and drove to the schools.

I think knowing that I was going to tell the worst possible thing to my beautiful, young, innocent half-brother and half-sister was just awful, appalling!

The first couple of days I was overcome with shock, you know I just couldn’t believe it, just could not believe it. I didn’t live thinking my father could be killed by the IRA, some people did grow up always with that awareness but I didn’t. I didn’t know what to do with that shock and the emotions. But what happened to me within two days was, I sort of thought I had a choice and the choice was, do I stay a victim? Do I blame? Do I have an enemy in my life? Do I give up on the person I was or do I find a way to go on a journey? And I made a commitment to find a way to bring something positive out of what had happened and to even understand those who’d killed him and I didn’t just lose that free spirit, which I did lose, I felt like I was part of the conflict in Northern Ireland where before I would have watched it. I grew up with bombs going off in London, bomb scares and hearing about it on the news but I always felt quite detached but suddenly I was in that conflict. My heart was sort of woken up to the pain of other people.

So I made this very silent, private commitment to go on a journey. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know how to…..there was no-one I could go to and talk about it with. It was very much an interior thing.

Iain: And you really had to take responsibility because I think your mother was in a very difficult situation because her brother had committed suicide recently. She was grieving there…that’s your birth mother.

Jo: Yes…

Iain: …as opposed to your stepmother. Your stepmother was badly injured and your father was gone, so you were kind of taking responsibility for the family.

Jo: I think…my brother, who’s three years younger, he had to very quickly take responsibility and organize the funeral and we very much worked as a team. And a lot of family just came to London and we became very close and this is family on my dads’ side, on my mums’ side, my stepmothers’ side. Just everyone just came together and we were surrounded by a lot of love and support and friends for a few weeks. My dad was very, very loved by a whole lot of people. There were a lot of events to go to and they carried on for years of people remembering him and celebrating his life.

I didn’t talk to anybody else about what I was feeling in terms of the…of how he’d been killed and I think in a family, everyone has their own way of grieving and so my way was different and I ended up going to Belfast within nine months, quite, quite soon. The reason was, I went to do a workshop with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who’s an amazing woman, who was doing a workshop on resolving grief and what she calls, ‘unfinished business’. But the main thing for me was I started meeting people who were affected by the conflict there and who wanted to listen to me because nobody in London wanted to know about what had happened to me but people in Northern Ireland did.

I went to their houses and they shared their stories and they told me what it was like to live with the British army on the streets. I met people who were working, even in 84’ and ’85 to create safe houses for both sides to meet and it was…..for me, it was absolutely a huge learning curve. I met someone high up in Sinn Fein….

Iain: I think you also met the brother of a man who…his brother had been in the IRA and been killed by the British army, so you met someone who had suffered from the other side, if you like…

Jo: That was a complete coincidence. I just happened to share a taxi with him.

Iain: Really?

Jo: Yes, this is before I went to Belfast. This was about, within two months of it happening. I ended up sharing a taxi and he’d lost his brother, being in the IRA, killed by a British soldier. It was a very important meeting for me because we could have been enemies. We came from different sides. I could have blamed him for what happened to me and he could have blamed me for what had happened to his brother but we shared a vision of a peaceful world and as I left that taxi, the words came to me, ‘Ahh, I can build a bridge across the divide, that’s one way I can contribute.’ That idea about building bridges is still very strong in my life now and it came from that taxi ride.

Iain:  Yeah….that’s what your charity is called, ‘Building Bridges For Peace.’ (Jo says it with him).

So Pat, let’s go back to you. You were saying earlier that for eight months you were still active in the IRA and then you were arrested on another operation and obviously you were then convicted of whatever….presumably that and also the Brighton bombing, you were put in jail pretty much indefinitely.

Pat: Well, the trial judge sentenced me, made a recommendation that I shouldn’t be released until I had done thirty-five years and wouldn’t be considered for parole unless I’d done thirty-five years. But that recommendation then goes to the Home Secretary, and it’s a political decision. It’s the Home Secretary sets, what’s called, the Tariff, the actual time you have to spend in jail. When the decision was made it was fifty years, yeah, in fact let me backtrack, it was whole life and myself and other people affected by these whole life tariffs, took a JR, a judicial review and they had to reconsider. But when they did reconsider, they were loaded to fifty years. So from the judges recommendation thirty-five years, the political decision came down to fifty years.

Iain: So how…how was it to you to realize you’re in jail and you’re gonna be in jail basically till you die?

Pat: Well, realistically speaking at the time, standing in the dock when the verdict was given and the sentence given, handed down, I…I…I felt that because of the millennium looming, about fourteen years away that, that would be a real catalyst for change, for negotiations to begin, there’d be a real effort to arrive at a settlement..but…I..I….my best estimate would have been twenty years. I expected to do twenty years in jail.

Iain: But how was that for you to think…next twenty years you’re in jail?

Pat: I said to myself, ‘I’ve gonna get through this. One day I’m gonna be free. I don’t know how long.’ But you consider the longevity in your family both sides and thought, ‘If I keep myself active, I will have freedom one day.’

It was always on the cards. If you became a member of the Republican Movement you’re told, nobody hides it from you, ‘You’re going to jail or you’re going down a hole at some point.’ That’s it. That’s your life!

Iain: And when you read about, obviously you read, that you knew that apart from Jo’s father, I think there were five other people killed so…

Pat: It was four.

Iain: Four…. ...okay. The bomb killed four people and injured some others. Was there any thought in you for the people that you’d killed? I’m not saying this in a judgmental way. I’m interested in your process.

Pat: Do you mean at the time or prior to or immediately after?

Iain: Yes….

Pat: No, there wouldn’t have been. I know that sounds extremely harsh and crass. Because we felt it was absolutely necessary to target the British State and it was the political establishment, the Tory party, the people who made the decisions that resulted in the oppression on the streets of where we came from. They were there and we were targeting them, targeting them as part of a campaign. I mean years later…I think coming out of conflict you can start to reflect on the enormity of the taking of life etcetera and the injuries it caused. I think that’s common to everybody coming out of conflict and it certainly applied to us.

Iain: Okay. So, meantime you went off Jo, you went off and met someone, fell in love, went off to have a family, you had three daughters, lived in Wales a lot of the time. And somehow this was a little bit to one side, not so much the grieving process but the kind of involvement in….as a mother you were understandably… had your time filled elsewhere. Then you had the news, I think, it was 1999, that with the Good Friday Agreement, Pat, amongst others was going to be released. What was your response then?

Jo: I remember turning on the TV and there was Pat being released from prison and I didn’t know it was going to be that day. I didn’t even know it was going to happen and I remembered being very shocked and looking…and I had a thought, ‘It’s okay for Pat, he’s out, he’s free but my dad can never come back,’ and then thinking there’s a peace process and it’s important for peace and so I didn’t quite know what it was going to mean to me, but within two weeks of that date I ended up sharing with a group of friends what had happened to my father and I had never told anyone what had happened to my family and me. My children didn’t know, no-one knew. I kept it very quiet….

Iain: You didn’t tell your children, really?

Jo: ....Them?...no!

Because I hadn’t dealt with the emotional grief and so I couldn’t talk about it. I just locked it away. I was sharing with my friends and suddenly I was right back on the 12th October. It was almost like I’d just opened a box and all the suppressed emotions came out. And so I was no longer in a field in 1999 talking with friends, I was back on 12th October. It was a very scary experience. There was this rage that came out as well and tears and grief and I knew I had to get the support for my own healing. I was never offered anything at the time, nothing! So, I think I couldn’t emotionally deal with the level of the pain, so I squashed it. But that day was the right day for me to start dealing with it.

I went to…I got invited very soon after that to a First Victims Group in Ireland that welcomed people from England, the Glencree Reconciliation Centre. That was the beginning of 2000. I spent a lot of weekends there, crying and just being in touch with the whole sort of emotional continuum of that pain, there was a whole range of emotions. Things I had no idea that I felt and they all came out. It was a very safe place to open up and I met other people who were going through similar processes, from Belfast, Derry…Londonderry, from Dublin, from Warrington and we were very much connected through this grieving process. We had a lot of laughter as well and we’d stay up all night, just sharing and someone would have a guitar, so it wasn’t just a sad time, it was more than that and I’m still in touch with many of those people.

I was during that year 2000 that I felt like I wanted to meet Pat. So every now and again I’d meet somebody who knew him or knew somebody who did and I would say, ‘ Please could you introduce me to Pat and organize a meeting?’ And three times I got back that he didn’t want to meet me. And this whole journey had actually been about trusting timing, trusting things would happen at the right time and so I was a bit disappointed and so I thought, ‘well, okay.’

Iain: So why did you want to meet Pat?

Jo: I think because I needed to see him as a human being, that I never wanted anyone in my life as an enemy and when he planted the bomb it felt like something was severed in me. I lost something in my heart and I wanted to refind that and there was a lot of work I could do on my own, and I did, but actually sitting with him was going to be, I thought, very healing. I wanted to hear his story and see him as a human being. That year I’d met a few people who had been in the IRA and they shared with me that actually it might be more to do with my need than his need, that perhaps he wouldn’t want to and I understood that it could be a different agenda for him. But at the same time I felt just having him in the room, being able to hear his…something about his childhood and who he is, I would gain. I remember when I got the phone call to say that I could meet him that evening, I…I didn’t know whether I was going to regret it. I didn’t know how I was going to feel. I’d spent all these years not wanting to blame, but would I want to blame him when I saw him? Would I feel angry? Would he even turn up? I just didn’t know and it felt like a big risk and it was a risk I wanted to take. I didn’t tell anybody….

Iain: Okay…so..how was it for you Pat when you heard that Jo wanted to meet you?

Pat: Well…well…come before I was even released from jail, I recognized that you’re coming out into a new political dispensation because of the peace process, which would entail at some point, I believed, me sitting down with former enemies, squaddies, RUC men etcetera, loyalists, all the participants of the conflict, and trying to deal with this legacy, trying to understand each other, and victims obviously was a big part of that too, you’d be meeting victims. So I think I was already primed for it to happen. But for the first meeting, I mean, the first time I heard that somebody wanted to meet me would have been about a year out of jail, but I was ready for it then and readily enough agreed to the meeting. I’d sought some assurance that the meeting would be conducted in a civil manner. That Jo wasn’t there to confront the gravity…at that stage I wouldn’t have even been aware of the name of this person…just wanted to meet me and try to understand and I felt it would be a good thing to do. There was a political obligation to do that.

Iain: What did you feel when you first saw her in the room? You walked in, she’s sitting there and you killed her father.

Pat: Well….I went along to that meeting expecting to have my say to, I suppose, to justify the killing of her father, try to explain it. Gonna be tough, I knew that, but I would try to do it in a sympathetic, sensitive manner as possible. That would be it. But then you’re standing in front of the front door to knock, the enormity of what I was about to do just hit me and I was pretty nervous going into that meeting. Then sitting down with Jo, there were other people present. I felt this great need to be alone. I didn’t want to share this moment with anybody else. I think I was scared of letting myself down in front of other people, that the emotions would overcome me but I felt trust enough, sufficient trust, I got this sense that I could talk to this woman and we’d take it from there. We ended up speaking for three hours together, alone…three hours! I did start off giving the justification and had to start off on that basis. But I became very much aware that Jo was listening very attentively. She was giving me the floor to say what I had to say. I wasn’t…didn’t feel I was being judged, there was no…no way of telling what was going on in Jo’s head. I suppose I just.…I felt it was just time that I couldn’t do this. I can’t carry on with this justification….it caught me up, it caught me up short and I think from that moment on I wanted to hear more from Jo about her loss, and I think, I think if Jo had have been a bit more confrontational, challenging my justifications it would have been easier to handle…I would have tried to parley back and forth….again, that sounds as if I could but that would have been it.

The fact that she was so ready to see it from my perspective disarmed me frankly, that’s what it felt like. What was designated to be like a one off meeting, at the end of it there was a great need to carry on that dialogue, a great need…and I believe Jo has felt the same.

Jo: Yes

Pat: One meeting wouldn’t have covered it.

Iain: So, I’m going to ask you the same question. You see Pat face to face for the first time and you’re listening to him talking, how did you feel?

Jo: I think nothing prepared me for the moment of him walking into the room and there was part of me that almost couldn’t quite believe that I was there with him. I remember having thoughts like, ‘this man killed your father, what are you doing sitting here and listening to him?’ and another part of me, which is the part I listened to, really, really wanted almost to facilitate him opening up. I was quite clear I wasn’t going there to argue or judge or to be confrontational. And so, I just did listen and I wanted to see things from his perspective as he said. Then there was this moment which Pat just talked about where the justification stopped and I could see it…Pat stopped talking and he looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never met somebody so open as you and I don’t know who I am anymore.’ He completely changed and so the political hat came off and the conversation changed one hundred percent and I think at that point I knew a new journey had started. Before that it was about my need and at that point it became about Pat’s need as well. It seemed that Pat started a journey of refinding his humanity as I was just refinding mine and we both needed to see each other as human beings. And we both became vulnerable and shared more about our, I suppose, personal emotional experience and that was actually very scary for me and it was far more than I had bargained for.

I saw it as a one off meeting and as we left I actually thanked Pat for his willingness to engage with me because I knew that most men wouldn’t have and I knew even then I’m no easy option for Pat. For both of us after that meeting we went through quite a difficult emotional time and I went through like wondering whether I’d betrayed my father, regretting it and I think Pat, he will say, that he went through quite a low time as well….it was difficult afterwards and we had no support. No-one was facilitating this process. We were making it up ourselves. Looking back on it, I think it was amazing the way it happened because the potential for transformation was immense and it has been very transforming.

Iain: You even had a death threat didn’t you afterwards? Somebody threatened to kill you after you talked about forgiving, forgiveness on television?

Jo: Well actually, that was before in 1985, no ’86 I had a death threat.

Iain: Really?

Jo: Yes…but when we went public, because we didn’t go public straight away…I was quite a private person and there was no way I was going to tell the world what I was doing and it was only through meeting someone who wanted to film us and eventually got to a point a year later where a documentary was screened, but I found it quite hard obviously, thinking about my family, I didn’t want to retraumatize them. To really think deep, was this documentary going to be of help in the world? Was it going to motivate people to work towards dialogue and towards peace? That was my motivation for going public. But the first talk we ever gave was in London and I remember that Pat said and I’d never heard him say this before, but he said, ‘I now know I could have sat down with your dad and had a cup of tea,’ very simple, but actually profound because when Pat planted that bomb he didn’t see a human being there….

Iain: Yes…

Jo: …and he had started, even back then, twelve years ago, of changing how he saw my father. Is that right? (Jo turns to face Pat).

Pat: Completely. It stems very much from you talking about your father to me and just as you’ve done earlier there, just sharing some things in the past that…how you’d reached this lovely place with your father, that reconciliation. And so I’m getting a picture of this man coming out before I would have been a cypher. I mean that I didn’t know who this man was. Even when the names came out of who were killed, it didn’t mean anything. He was a Tory and that covered it, seemed to. Now, I’m meeting his daughter, and who’s revealing things about this man and in the meantime over quite a while I’ve come to respect this woman. I’ve come to have a very high opinion of her and respect her intelligence, respect her willingness to listen to me …some very fine qualities there and recognized that much of this came from her father, which means that he was a very fine person himself and I’d killed this man and that was hard, that was hard. And it…it…I guess it set me on a course of trying to know more, and trying to be more open to….of those I would have thought of as my enemies.

I think in the middle of conflict, there’s often happens when you narrow your view of the people you’re in contest with. You don’t see them in their full humanity. All you do see is the colour of the uniform, symbols, trappings of power and their political allegiances…their cyphers again. If you even began to see them as human beings, you wonder how it would be possible to do what you had to do, you felt you had to do at the time. In fact, to me that opened up another train of thought. There were no means for that dialogue to take place. There were all these obstacles to that dialogue. The blinkered vision created an obstacle in itself. The conflict created that obstacle and for me…tackling reconciliation means removing obstacles to dialogue, so we can see each other in a clearer light. And I think if you did that before you got to the stage where violence comes on the agenda, maybe we could really change things for the better and people wouldn’t have to be talking of in terms of victims and perpetrators.

Iain: There’s a very important point that you made Jo when you were…I picked up, I made a note of it, I picked it up on the internet somewhere. You used to talk about forgiveness and now you don’t see it so much in terms of forgiveness. Can you just explain that more?

Jo: Yes, well…It occurred to me after I’d had lots of feedback from the documentary that forgiveness is a really complex word, because some people said to me, ‘ Oh, it’s so sad Jo, you can’t forgive Pat,’ and other people said, ‘Well done for forgiving Pat,’ and they’d all seen the same film. So I thought, well okay, what is forgiveness? The experience that I’ve had that gives me the most understanding of that word is a time when Pat and I spent a lot of time sharing, it was around a filming session and we had some time together away from the cameras and Pat was talking a lot about the internment time, stories of his family and I realized that if…if I’d lived Pat’s life and gone through everything he’d gone through, would I have made the same choices as him? Would I have joined the IRA? I don’t know…I don’t know. I may have. I may not have. In that moment I have such empathy and understanding that there isn’t anything to forgive. I realized, that not just with Pat, but with other people who had been involved in the conflict like an ex-British soldier, an ex loyalist paramilitary, I could be any one of their sisters, or I could be them. We all can be each others’ stories and this to me is more powerful than forgiveness….understanding and empathy.. and one of my main themes of my life is an idea that we can disarm each other through empathy and that it’s a very powerful tool of change and healing. It’s not about saying I forgive you, it’s about actually saying, I understand you so much. If I’d lived your life, I don’t know how I would have acted. So it’s completely different….

Iain: It’s interesting because I’ve found a quote from both of you and it’s the same quote….I don’t know whether this was by design or…’The enemy is a real person.’ What does that mean to you Pat, ‘the enemy is a real person?’

Pat: Well, behind the cypher there is a human being and it’s getting to know that human being, once you know that human being there’s a whole potential to engage with them and you disarm them in your mind. They’re no longer the enemy and they’re somebody you can have a dialogue with, reach an accommodation with.

Iain: It’s almost about…understanding their point of view as you were saying, it’s almost like you put yourself in their shoes and you try and think, well, what would I do in their situation? And is there a way, a meeting that’s beyond the obvious.

Jo: It’s about letting go of I’m right and you are wrong.

Iain: Yes.

Jo: And I think we are all born with that and it’s very easy to…I find myself doing it, making myself right and someone else wrong and I think conflict, is that done on a bigger scale but actually I think, to move forwards it’s almost like we have to hold the whole human family in our hearts and recognize that the other is always going to be somebody who is a human being with their own needs and if we can understand that and look for win win solutions and look for different ways for a resolution in conflict, so no-one’s hurt.

Pat: There’s one thing I have learnt and it comes through having dialogue with a whole range of people, who at one stage I would have been at loggerheads with and it’s…there’s validity in all sides. There’s validity…people…people I think work from the best intentions and it may have consequences for you, but their doing it from their best light and it’s recognizing that and again when you recognize that, then it’s a matter of negotiation and accommodation with them.

Jo: Yeah…

Iain: I know we have about seven or eight minutes left and I want to talk more practically about the work that you’re doing now. So you’re travelling quite a bit, the two of you and you’re kind of a team now if you like and you’re…I think you’re going to Palestine/Israel fairly shortly?

Pat: Less than four weeks.

Iain: What kind of work do you do when you go to places like that?

Jo: Well, we are spending a lot of time with Combatants for Peace, who are an amazing group from both sides, who come together and will be sharing our story with them and then creating a safe emotional place for them to share their story and their struggles, so partly, it will be about giving support by listening.

We find that when we go to other conflicts, that one of the things we can do, is just by saying that we had these problems in our conflicts in our community that helps other people. So for example, when we were in Rwanda, they actually felt very isolated there and that not only do people not care but they feel they’re the only people dealing with the post-genocide situation, and us just saying actually, that we had these problems back in Northern Ireland is a great help. Then when they see what we’re doing then that helps them feel stronger in what they’re doing. So it’s partly sharing our journey and partly facilitating and opening up and of stories…

Pat: A similar experience in the Lebanon. We both attended a conference in Lebanon a while back and…a room full of people. Each one had to say something about themselves and well I related something about myself and Jo would have done similar and then some of the Lebanese from all sides started talking and it became apparent, very early on, that this was a new field for them. There’d been so little telling of their stories, their individual stories, that was quite shocking…it’s a very sophisticated country. You’d have thought there’d be some mechanism in place for these stories to emerge but nothing had been done. So, just our example, the example of our dialogue had a powerful impact there, which clearly encouraged us to want to do it more.

Jo: We also do some work together in Northern Ireland as well. I think that’s always a place where I’m going to feel the most fulfilling work and where we are going to be working in schools and with young children. That was very important work and we also go into prisons and schools and universities here. And I’m developing my charity and I do some work on my own as well, which it feels important…With us we never know what’s going to happen. Even now we don’t know whether tomorrow, we are going to be working together. It depends on both of us and things change. So there’s always that sort of area of kind of…sort of fragileness about it. Although now, it’s been twelve years we’ve been working together but there’s always an unknown about it.

Pat: We’ve met, I’m guessing on more than a hundred occasions, sharing platforms etecera, doing media works, things like this, all in talking dialogue in public and…it’d be wrong to assume it’s now easy to do that. It’s never been easy because when it comes down to it, I’m sitting beside somebody and I killed her father and that’s difficult, difficult to do that and yet I’m doing it because I feel I’m gaining something from it and I’m hoping that Jo is too. And the very fact that we continue to meet is encouraging in itself and we hope would be an example for others to open up a bit more to each other.

Jo: And I think back to that committment to bring something positive out of what happened and actually it’s not that I ever get to the point that I’ve created enough positive things, no…because each day is a new day (Pat concurs) and I will carry on doing this work. What I’ve learned in the last twelve years has been extraordinary and I’m actually really grateful to Pat for giving me these opportunities to learn more about myself and my own violence, because at the end of the day I can only change myself.  I’m transforming that part into working for peace and I’m very grateful for Pat for journeying with me.

Iain: It’s interesting we were talking earlier, when we were having lunch about how often people see conflict in terms of dramatic on the outside and something like bombing and wars etecera, but in a way we all have conflict in our lives every day and it’s less dramatic. You (looking at Jo) gave an example that happened with your daughter and boyfriend at the time and how you had a reaction. And so, you saw a reaction afterwards and you saw the potential for polarization for conflict and that’s something that’s so important in our lives. It’s about the little conflicts, the little conflicts add up to the big conflicts.

Jo: I mean…yeah..when I feel hurt or pain, there’s still part of me that wants to blame and make someone else responsible, that hasn’t gone away. But what I am getting better at is to take a few deep breaths and work with the part of me that wants to take responsibility. Just recently I went into blame mode and even though I knew I was in blame mode I sent a rather aggressive text to somebody. I then had to work to undo the damage, which I have done and everything is fine. I’m always vigilant and aware and recognizing that, that pattern to blame someone else is so strong and yet my committment every day is to see the humanity in everyone and not to blame and seek to understand. It’s hard emotional inner work. It’s not easy and I feel like I’m a beginner in this work.

Iain: We all have to be very diligent. There’s one thing Pat said when we were having lunch and which I wrote down and really liked, he said the key for him, a lot of the time was having more time to listen and slow everything down.

Pat: Yes, just in your dealings with people, I think it pays to be more attentive and one means of doing that is just to slow down a bit. That gives you room to think about how you’re going to respond. It means you’re more keenly aware of what you’re hearing and to me that is a key.

Iain: Well, the miracle is that you actually both talk about a friendship between you don’t you?

Jo: Yes..Pat is…

Pat: Yes.

Iain: Almost a miracle in a way. That’s incredible that you’ve both done that.

Jo: Well, we have become friends… I think we are….

Pat: I think we’ve had great difficulty in characterizing the relationship. Somebody, last night, said that I’m sort of a father figure or whatever but…people put their own interpretation on…

Jo: On us.

Pat: I don’t even think friendship covers it. It’s much more than……You can let your friends down all the time. I feel I can never let this woman down. Do you know what I’m saying? I feel I have to be just that bit more careful because I’ve hurt her so grievously in the past. I have to be more careful.

Iain: Okay well…your charity is called Building Bridges For Peace.

Jo: Yes.

Iain: People can find that on the internet and I think it’s wonderful work you’re doing and want to thank you both for having the courage to do what you’re doing and also coming along and sharing your story with Conscious TV.

Jo: Thank you.

Pat: Thank you.

Iain: And thank you everyone for watching Conscious TV today and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.

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