‘I was part of it. I killed your father’

Twenty years after the Brighton bomb, the IRA man responsible and the daughter of one of the victims came together in an extraordinary meeting. Simon Fanshawe took the chair

Simon Fanshawe: Jo, what compelled you to explore this path of reconciliation?
Jo Berry: It’s a choice I make every day. I mean, I woke up this morning and had to make a choice to carry on because today is a difficult challenge. Part of me just wanted to say: enough is enough. I just want to be quiet today. So it’s a choice to carry on this journey, to build bridges. But actually I have no choice. If I do not do this then I feel I choose to stay a victim.

SF: When you said that you wanted to meet Patrick Magee, what did you want to get out of that meeting?
JB: The year before I met Pat I did a lot of raging. I was ready, if it was right, to meet Pat. I wanted to hear his story. Why he planted the bomb, what had happened before and after. To meet each other as human beings.

SF: Describe the scene when you first met.

JB: It was Friday morning and I was going to Ireland. I was leaving my three daughters for the weekend and I remember I was making soup and cleaning the house. The phone rang. It was Ann Gallagher, a friend of mine since 1985. She said, “Jo, do you want meet Pat tonight?” and I said, “Yes, see you later.” I put the phone down. Then thought: no, it’s the wrong day. I felt so uninspired. I wasn’t interested in conflict. I just wanted to be a mother. I didn’t want to leave my children.

When I got to Dublin I felt so scared. Ann just said, “You cook.” Then the doorbell rang and it was Patrick. I remember getting up from the table thinking I just wanted to reassure Pat that it was going to be OK to meet me. I thought maybe he was more scared than me. [To Magee] Do you remember? I got up from the table and shook your hand and said, “I am really pleased you have come.” Do you remember what you said?

Patrick Magee: Something to the effect of, “Thank you for inviting me.” I certainly was scared, I’ll tell you that. I sought assurance from the people who proposed the meeting that it wouldn’t be confrontational. Once I was satisfied on that point I was happy, but I do not think I had really thought it through. I mean, I think it was more a kind of political obligation. So I stood at that door and became very nervous. I had this overwhelming urge just to talk to you directly alone. We needed to get away and sit down and talk. I felt a strong urge to be as open and frank as possible. I have no real recollection of everything we went through but it was absolutely from the heart, open, and one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Opening up to another human being. And nothing can prepare you for that.

JB: Do you remember the moment when you stopped being there to justify and opened up? Because you actually stopped talking.

PM: I do. I had this political hat on my head … the need to explain. But then I had to confront something that I have to confront every time I meet you and perhaps more so now because of where we are and the day it is, and that is that I am sitting with someone whose father I killed. Here in Brighton. Twenty years after your father’s death. I do not shirk my responsibilities for that. It was an IRA action, but whatever the political justification for it, I was part of it and I killed your father. And every time I meet you that is at the forefront of my mind. It is full of profundity and it’s shattering. Quite honestly, there’s no hiding to be done behind politics. The rehearsed arguments and the line might be sincere, but it’s inappropriate. We were communicating as two human beings.

SF: What was the sign to you, Jo, that Pat had opened up?

JB: That political hat came off and I think, Patrick, you took your glasses off; there was a tear. And you said, “I have never met anyone so open, with such dignity” – is that what you said? You said to me, “I want to hear your anger, I want to hear your pain.” And that is when I knew that we were going on a journey. That this was not going to be one meeting. And as you say, we were meeting as two human beings. My need to meet you matched your need to meet me. I did not expect that because I heard from other ex-prisoners who said to me, “Jo, you may need to meet Patrick, but he doesn’t need to meet you.”

But together we opened up your commitment to hear even my most difficult feelings. You have never shirked away from the times when I have been really angry or hurt or frustrated or cried. You heard it.

PM: If anything, that was a relief to me. It is probably harder when someone who I have hurt is prepared to listen and try to understand. Dealing with anger almost seems easier in some way. If that makes sense to anybody. I’m not sure it makes sense to me.

SF: What have you both got out of it?

JB: It is not easy, for either of us. I think we both have been courageous to meet and that courage has carried on. I am not an easy option for Pat. When Pat talks about the other choices not being there, not just in Ireland but around the world, that helps me understand why people resort to violence. It makes my passion stronger to find other choices. That is what this is about. Nothing is going to bring my dad back. Caring for Pat makes it easier to get some of my humanity back.

PM: The big lesson is that if you see people as human beings, how can you possibly hurt them? Then you think of all the barriers to that simple relationship occurring – political, social, economic. When people are marginalised or excluded they are left only with their anger. So do everything to remove the blocks and let people be human with each other. That’s the lesson from my meeting Jo.

SF: Is there something that you’d like to say to each other that you feel would be important for people to hear?

PM: I was talking about how tough it is – and it is tough we both know that – to meet you. But also I know I will keep on meeting you as long as you’re prepared to meet me. And I thank you, Jo, for being prepared to be as open as you are to me after what I did to you.

JB: I appreciate that. [Pause.] For me, meting you today, 20 years after you planted the bomb that killed my father, is part of something I have yearned for and worked hard for. [It has taken] years to reach this point, where I can sit with you and listen and understand. It means so much to me. I feel us being together brings something positive out of what happened 20 years ago. Every time we meet you are more open and vulnerable. And on days like this I really appreciate that.

· This is an edited transcript.

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