AT a dinner in London many years ago, the man on my mother's left, who had been listening to her conversation with the man on her right, complimented her on her attractive Irish accent and then apologised for the famine. Being well-mannered, she managed to disguise her amusement, but she laughed a lot afterwards.
Much though she liked England and loved its literature, my mother had the contempt of an earthy Corkwoman for wimpish English hand-wringers. She also took a robust line on terrorism, believing that the Irish government should emulate de Valera and hang IRA killers. So she would have had a field day over what a peace-site stomach-churningly calls the "current 'chapter' in the evolving-in-the-now story of Jo Berry and Patrick Magee".
Poor Jo Berry is one of the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been ruined by the IRA. Twenty years ago, in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, Magee murdered her father, Sir Anthony, an MP, ex-journalist and father of six, along with Eric Taylor, a Conservative party activist, and Jeanne Shattock and Roberta Wakeham who - like Muriel MacLean, who took a month to die - had committed the crime of being married to minor party officials.
"I vowed at that time," says Jo Berry, "to make something positive of the experience and come to understand the motivations of the man who killed my dad."
Now Pat Magee is an interesting chap as murderers go. Weird, but interesting. He's remembered with amusement in some republican circles because during the H-Block protests he went to the pub wearing a blanket and turned his Ballymun flat into a mock cell. (I doubt if his search for versimilitude extended to smearing excrement on the walls). Known as a loner, he is highly intelligent and well-read, has a PhD which he earned in prison and has published a book on Troubles fiction. He does not use language lightly, so I've been reading his words with interest.
When four years ago, Magee agreed to meet Berry, he told her, she says, "I want to hear your anger. I want to hear your pain". And in turn she listened to his explanation of why he did what he did - and nice, decent, gullible person that she is - she fell for it. "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."
What? In a western democracy with a thriving nationalist party, there were no choices? I expect she's already apologised for causing the famine.
Before she met him, Berry spoke of forgiving. "Now," she says, "I don't talk about forgiveness. To say 'I forgive you' is almost condescending - it locks you into an 'us and them' scenario, keeping me right and you wrong."
I've news for Jo Berry. She, an innocent young woman whose father was blown up, was in the right. Pat Magee, who planted the bomb and is not remorseful, was in the wrong. By failing to see that, she is helping the Provos' project to present themselves as innocents regretfully forced by the brutal Brits to commit murder.
Magee takes it further. Berry has shown him so much empathy that he now expects the world to be sorry for him. "Some day I may be able to forgive myself. Although I still stand by my actions, I will always carry the burden that I harmed other people." All together now: "Ah, Wuzzums!"
Still, after knowing Jo Berry for four years, forming with her Causeway, a project to encourage victims and perpetrators to meet, and appearing with her in peace-and-reconciliation roadshows, Magee has admitted that his continued defence of political violence has "stood as an impediment between me and Jo". Handsomely, he adds, "I feel Jo is entitled to her anger and pain."
What is nauseating is that Magee is now simultaneously a hero to diehard republicans and English breast-beaters. Jo Berry is being applauded for such helpful remarks as "sometimes when I've met with Pat, I've had such a clear understanding of his life that there's nothing to forgive."
She would be shocked by a perceptive comment on the UTV website from a Belfast victim: "Good for Ms Berry to show her caring and forgiving side but a killer like Dr Magee will never show any remorse. He was dehumanised and believed in what he was doing for 'The Cause' and God help anyone or thing that got in his way."
Journalist Suzanne Breen got it right. "All this latter-day introspection is complete tripe, Magee and Berry are perhaps two individuals who are hooked on being the centre of media attention."
Yes, but Berry's underlying motivation is noble. Magee's use of a vulnerable, suffering woman to muddy the moral waters is despicable.