PEACE advocates Jo Berry and Pat Magee will open this year’s Scariff Harbour Festival.
Jo is the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry, a Tory MP who was killed during the Brighton Bombing of 1984 and Pat Magee was the Republican activist who planted the bomb. Having sought out and reconciled with Pat, Jo went on to found Building Bridges for Peace and now she and Pat conduct peace and reconciliation talks and workshops. They will hold a workshop for a group of Foróige members on Saturday, July 30 and will give a talk at Scariff Library during the festival.
On October 12, 1984, the IRA exploded a bomb in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the Conservative Party Conference killing five people, including Sir Anthony, and injuring many more. Sir Anthony’s family were devastated but for his daughter Jo, it also started a life-long mission for peace.
Sixteen years later, Pat, the man who planted the bomb, was released from prison and Jo arranged to meet him. As they listened to each other’s stories, they came to realise that it was the beginning of a journey of peace and reconciliation to which they were inextricably bound.
In an interview with The Clare Champion, Jo explained, “It would have been within two days of losing my father in the Brighton bomb that I decided to go on a journey and bring something positive out of it. That was very important to me that I didn’t go the way of revenge and anger, that I was trying to bring something positive out of it and understand those who had killed him,” she said.
It wasn’t until after Jo attended a victim support group in 2000 that she began to heal. She explained that it was very important for her at the time to connect with other people, who had been through something similar and understood.
“After that, I met people who knew Pat Magee, so eventually I got to meet him. I didn’t need him to say sorry; it wasn’t about that. It was about wanting to see him as a human being behind the label; behind the faceless enemy, which is how he was reported and that was going to help me. It was about me. It wasn’t about him; it was about giving myself something. I did that completely on my own initiative. There was no support,” she explained.
Looking at it from the other side, Jo said she didn’t think Pat was prepared for what he would feel. She said he began in the territory that he was used to, which was justifying the violence.
“He couldn’t sustain that and he changed and he would later say that he was disarmed because I had given him empathy. If I had gone in there ranting and raving and blaming, he would have stayed in a place of righteousness but he couldn’t because I didn’t do that. I just listened. It wasn’t that his views changed, it was that he gave up the political justification and he opened up and became much more vulnerable. He felt he couldn’t keep up his position in front of me because it just felt wrong. He then changed. He started a journey,” Jo said.
Jo explained that after the first meeting “it felt very unfinished”, so a couple of weeks later they met again. What began as a one-off meeting became more and the two are still meeting now and giving talks and workshops on reconciliation.
She outlined what these talks usually entail. “We will share our story and that’s always different. We don’t prepare; we just share what’s happening. My whole thing is ‘the other’. When we have ‘the other’ in our lives, we start dehumanising them so we have to rehumanise them and that, for me, is what the work is about. What I would like people to get from it is an idea of what is possible, that we can find a way. We still don’t agree on everything but still there’s that respect and we ask, ‘can we bring listening to our communities’?”
In the wake of the Brexit vote, she said this has never been more important.
“In England at the moment, we have this terrible crisis of people’s families being ripped apart and communities being ripped apart. There’s more racial hatred happening and I think never has there been more of a time here where listening and empathy is needed and safe places for dialogue. I know in Northern Ireland it’s a bit different, in that they voted to stay in and the peace process is so linked with the EU that there are great concerns. It’s going to be very difficult. It’s an awful thought. There is a lot of understandable concern about what will happen,” she said.
Jo founded the charity Building Bridges for Peace and launched it in Brighton in October 2009, on the 25th anniversary of the bombing. Through her charity, she works with young people to try and empower them to be positive change makers.
“I’m bringing a group together about peace building and how we can work together. I think every human being has the potential for transformation. Just as we have the potential to hurt others, I think we have the potential to heal and transform and be leaders. I believe everyone has that. I think there are things that help, like different types of support but I think there is that potential. Human beings are amazing,” she stressed.
Building Bridges for Peace works to enable divided communities and the general public to explore and better understand the roots of war, terrorism and violence. It promotes dialogue and mediation as the means to peace. Jo and Pat have given talks in Palestine, Lebanon, Rwanda and throughout the UK.
“I’m really honoured to be asked to speak at the Scariff Harbour Festival and I’m really looking forward to it,” Jo concluded.
By Carol Byrne