By David Hennessy
Steve Travers, survivor of the Miami Showband massacre says that both Catholic and Protestant communities in Ulster feel that history is being rewritten to suit political rhetoric. He also says the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland have to be addressed, making a sacrifice or compromise if it ensures peace in the future. He also says complacency, and Brexit, are big threats to the peace in Ulster.
Steve told The Irish World: “There’s a complaint from both communities that history is being rewritten to suit certain political agendas but you won’t get a rewritten history when you listen to someone who has lost their son, daughter, mother, father, whatever. It’s the truth. You’re listening to it first hand and that’s the value of this. It’s amazingly powerful and valuable to the reconciliation process.
“Just recently during the election, on all sides they were using events to suit themselves. I remember putting up a tweet, ‘Ya know, victims are life, not just for elections’.
“Having said that, there are people who welcome any sort of highlighting of their cause and they’re happy to get that but then it fades away and it’s gone and they think there’s going to be some sort of result from it and it’s just wiped away, taken down like an election board.
“If we don’t address the legacy issues here, then we’re failures as a generation. We’re handing over this toxic legacy of hatred and suspicion for our children to deal with and that’s not fair. If there’s a sacrifice or a compromise that has to be made, it’s worth making it just for the children so that they have a safer future than we had.
“Your children, my children: We don’t want this happening to them.
“When we were looking at getting the assembly back up and running, the legacy issue was used as an excuse, that people weren’t happy with how the government were dealing with the legacy issues as if it was something in the past. The legacy issues are not just about the past, they’re about the future.”
The Claddagh Ring will host a fundraiser for The Miami Showband Peace Centre on Friday 27 March which Ardal O’Hanlon will feature in with other acts and names to be announced. The Miami Showband Peace Centre will be a base for the Truth and Reconciliation Platform, co-founded by Steve and Eugene Reavey who lost three brothers when they were shot dead by a loyalist gang.
“We decided we needed a base, some place we could call our own. That’s what we’re hoping to have up and running well before the end of this year.
“We’ve asked Ardal to do that. He sees that it’s going to help the community.
“For us it’s all about dialogue, speaking to each other, it’s better than killing each other, isn’t it?”
Steve survived the Miami Showband killings of 1975. His band mates Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty, and Brian McCoy died that night.
The Miami Showband were Ireland’s most popular band. Sometimes referred to as ‘the Irish Beatles’, they could fill halls on both sides of the Irish border.
On 31 July 1975, little more than a year on from the UVF’s Dublin and Monaghan car bombings, the band were ambushed at a bogus army check point on the way back from a gig in Co. Down. A bomb that was supposed to explode after the band continued on their journey and falsely expose the band as IRA bomb smugglers exploded prematurely killing two of the bogus soldiers. The remaining bogus soldiers opened fire.
At least four of the gunmen that night were members of the British Army’s locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment. All were members of the UVF.
Steve had always maintained the leader was a posh English officer but was ignored for many years.
However, the groundbreaking Netflix documentary about the killings confirms that there was collusion between British forces and loyalist paramilitaries who were allowed to operate with near impunity.
The Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) started in London on 30 January 2016 when four victims of the Troubles shared their stories: “We said there was too much politicization of the horrific events that had gone on during the Troubles and people would hold one event up as a stick to beat the other person with.
“So we decided we need to tell people about what happened to both communities and the best way to do that is obviously not for us but to get the people who were impacted by these things to tell them.
“We set up the Truth and Reconciliation Platform and the words of the title of that organisation are very important. Truth and Reconciliation, we don’t believe there can be reconciliation until people know the truth about each other and what happened to themselves.
“We allow people an opportunity to stand up on a platform at our events and say, ‘This is my story, this is how it impacted’. It’s not a blame game or anything like that. It’s to show that neither side has a monopoly on suffering or loss and it’s worked as a great tool for reconciliation.
“People who never engaged with the other community say, ‘I never knew that, I never knew how you felt, I never knew what happened to you’.
“Complacency is the biggest enemy of reconciliation. The terrible mistake that was made was that people saw the Good Friday Agreement as an agreement that put something to bed. All the Good Friday Agreement did was give us a structure, a framework to develop and implement all of these things. The Good Friday Agreement was only the starting process. Unfortunately an awful lot of politicians just said, ‘Well we achieved that’, patted themselves on the back and walked away. It’s something that needed to be worked at and developed.
“Because there are others who are hell bent on the old ways on both sides but there’s always a case for putting down the gun and moving into the political arena and doing it through politics and dialogue.
“Recently I took an opportunity to speak at the Bloody Sunday march. I knew it could be a contentious thing but I took the opportunity to say how destructive a return to violence would be.
“Some people thought it was great and other people found it challenging. That’s what we do in TaRP. There’s no point in preaching to the converted. We’re very keen to bring the message to people who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in reconciliation.
“Brexit holds up some challenges as well. There are people who will perhaps see that as another demarcation line that they can say, ‘This is us, the other side is you’.
“It’s just something else to divide the people. Hopefully that won’t turn into something nasty.
“If there is a crash out, there’s questions that never mind they’re not answering, they’re not even asking the questions. If the EU tells us that Britain has crashed out, they’re not going to align with any of the requirements or anything like that, where does that put the question of a border?
“The Irish economy would collapse overnight if we maintain the integrity of the EU border so all of these questions have to be asked, have to be answered. And also the consequences of these things. Will the border remain down the Irish Sea? They’re questions that people avoid.
“In the event of some kind of checks between north and south: If they put a camera up, someone will shoot down the camera. If they put somebody there to guard the camera, they’ll probably shoot them. Then the police are down. Then the army is brought back in and all of a sudden, you’re back to where you were in 1969.”