Now and then

It’s as well we can’t see the future, or that we can’t see the present from the future. The dangers springing from the first are obvious, since few of us would like to know the day we’re going to be fired from our job or let down in love, much less the day we’re going to die. The dangers of the second showed after a brief scan of today’s Irish News. That paper is stuffed with selections from official documents, hitherto kept secret, about official reaction to the events of 1979. For example, the British Foreign Office told Thatcher that Charlie Haughey had hardline republican views (wrong) and that his name was pronounced ‘Hockey’ (wrong again). It also revealed that in 1979, John Hume suggested the use of internment (again) as a way of stemming successful attacks by the IRA (the killing of eighteen British soldiers at Warrenpoint, the killing of Mountbatten in Donegal). The British brushed his proposal aside, not because they had moral objections to putting people in prison without a trial but because they didn’t think Hume had thought the matter through. What, I wonder, would have been the reaction of the Irish people in 1979, if they could have somehow propelled themselves to the present day and looked back, to discover that the leader of nationalism in the North was urging the locking up of nationalists and republicans without trial?

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