the net of people deeply affected by political violence
Jo Berry’s speech against the Death Penalty
Friday 2 April 2010
Thank you for inviting me to speak here. It is an honour and a privilege and this subject is something I am very passionate about.
My story begins the day my father Sir Anthony Berry was blown up by an IRA bomb as he was attending the Conservative party Conference in Brighton, England, October 12 1984. I am standing here with Pat Magee, the man who planted the bomb.
I adored my Dad. I was 27 years old when he was killed. We had become very close, and the trauma, loss and devastation were immense. It was such a public death, and the violence was incomprehensible to me. And yet 2 days after the bomb, I made an inner commitment to find a way to bring something positive out of the tragedy, to go on a journey of giving up blame, a journey of understanding. My heart was opened to the pain of the conflict and I could not go back to being the free spirit I had been. During the years 85 and 86 I went to Northern Ireland many times, meeting courageous people on both sides who shared their story of being affected by the conflict. I found in Northern Ireland the support that I needed and that people welcomed me with open arms. I was beginning to understand the conditions, which would lead someone to join the IRA. It was only after the peace process in 1999 that I got the opportunity that I needed for healing my own trauma and I first went to a victims group. I also met men who had been in different paramilitary groups and this was preparing me to meet Pat Magee. I wanted to hear his story, to see him as a human being.
- Jo Berry and Pat Magee
- Jo Berry’s speech against the Death Penalty
In November 2000 I was getting ready to go to Ireland when I got the phone call to say that I could meet Pat Magee that evening. My first thought was that I was not in the mood, not caring about peace right now, I just want a normal day. Then I wondered how could I be ready for such a momentous event and knew I could trust.
I was very scared as I went on the ferry between Wales and Ireland, wondering if I was making the worst mistake of my life. I remember waiting in my friend’s kitchen and the knock on the door and in came Pat. ‘Thank you for coming’ were my first words. And Pat replied ‘No I thank you.’ Straight away we started talking and we went into a room of our own. The first conversation lasted 3 hours and there was an intensity that is hard to explain. I started by asking him questions, listening to his reasons for joining the IRA and why he thought the bomb was a good strategy that had led to the Peace process. He told me he was not a violent man, but the situation in his community showed him, that violence was the only way that they could be heard. I found his justification emotionally hard but that was what I had expected. I asked him other questions and began to be able to glimpse the man behind the ‘terrorist’. I shared a little about my wonderful father and the journey I had been on. I was thinking to myself privately that I wouldn’t be back for a second visit. Given his justifications for what he had done, it would not be necessary to see him again.
But then something happened, he took of his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and said, ’I have never met someone like you, so open and with so much dignity, I want to hear your anger, I want to hear your pain.’ I knew then that another journey had begun, Pat had taken off his political hat, opened up and become a vulnerable human being. We talked very differently now, and in some ways it was even more challenging. I wanted to leave, thinking what am I doing talking to the man who killed my Father, yet something strong in me wanted to engage at this very human level. As we left, Pat said ‘I am sorry for killing your Father’, and I said, ’I am glad its you’. Strange words but what I meant was I acknowledged his willingness to open and engage with me, many wouldn’t have. I was very disorientated after this meeting, felt like I had broken a taboo of society, wondered if I had betrayed my father, but more that all of this I know it was a powerful step in my healing and my personal way of ending the cycle of violence and revenge in myself.
I am often asked about closure,. I do not believe in closure, closure would mean to me that I would reach a moment when I just feel peace and happiness, and that is not even something I am looking for. I am connected now to the pain of terrorism, to war, to violence, and I care when others are hurt.
During the making of the documentary about us, I was given a small camcorder, and I filmed myself watching the public execution of Timothy McVeigh, I am in tears, seeing the pain of the victims who are present thinking this will bring them closure, and that they will now feel better. I do not believe this will help, and KNOW, in fact, it will delay their healing. This killing is only bringing more pain and denying them the opportunity to meet him, if they ever wished to. I weep at the inhumane way we treat our fellow men.
Having heard Pat’s story I know that if I had lived his life with all the experiences of pain and oppression I may have done the same thing, and in that moment there is nothing to forgive, only understanding. This liberates my heart, my need to blame, my remaining a victim. I still may have pain but I take responsibility and am transforming my grief into passion for peace.
I have felt the pain inside me of wanting to act on revenge, to make someone hurt as much as me. It is a powerful impulse, which tells me I will feel better but I also know that it would hurt me ever more and cost me some of my humanity. It is a choice. I have faced my pain, felt the enormity of it, cried, and raged, and I know only by taking responsibility, can I make it better. I have had the level of support that I have needed for me to be heard: I have been lucky. We need to make sure all victims have the right type of support. Over time the pain has become a part of me, and I know how to transform it.
I now call Pat my friend, it’s a remarkable friendship, difficult sometimes, but also a way of healing the most broken relationship in my life, and helping me transform and find ways of bringing something positive out my trauma. I am very glad Pat was not killed through the death penalty, for that would have robbed me of healing the most broken relationship I had, of helping me understand the roots of violence, of transforming in me the need to seek revenge. I now care about Pat and I thank you Pat for your readiness to meet me time after time and your commitment to dialogue with me, even though I know it’s challenging. We meet so that others can avoid what we both have gone through. If Pat had been killed through the death penalty I would have faced my responsibility for a death, because it would have been done in my name. And that would have been very hard.
I am no longer a victim, I am deepening my own humanity, and I aspire to see the humanity in all. For the truth is we all have the capacity to hurt others, we are all capable of being revengeful, and yet we have also the potential to honour the connection that exists between us all and find ways to heal the darkest pain, Let us in the world right now give up using violence to punish others and give up using violence to resolve conflict, learning how to to be non-violent and compassionate, committed to restoring relationships and understanding the ’other’. For the cost of hurting even one person is too great.
Together we can make a difference, together we are making a difference, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.
4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty
Geneva between February 24-26
- Affiche 4º Congres Mondial