Whatever the cause, targeting innocent people through acts of terrorism is unjustifiable. The bombing of the Boston Marathon recalls the horrors that were visited on the UK by the Provisional IRA, which were funded in part by NORAID, the Irish Northern Aid Committee.
Since coming to the UK from America for the first time in 1989 and subsequently moving here to marry and settle, I have come to appreciate in a personal way the history behind the bitter struggle over Irish independence which tore a gaping wound in this country.
Settling into London life, it took me a while to get used to news about bombings, and the innumerable bomb scares which led to delays on the trains and the Tube. But after a while, I became more like the British and grew accustomed to the disruption of The Troubles.
Looking back, my first exposure to the Anglo-Irish conflict came while I was still living in the United States and a British friend told me this story about travelling by train on the east coast of America. She had gone into the train station to purchase a special student-price ticket. The ticket seller, looking at her passport, said I can’t sell you this special ticket because you’re British.
My friend, confused and a little upset, asked him to explain and he said, all right, I’ll sell it to you as long as you say you support the IRA.
That was in Boston, a city long associated with the Irish diaspora in America and a mainstay of one of the principal fund-raising organisations to benefit the Provisional IRA – namely NORAID.
Millions of dollars were given to the Provisional IRA by NORAID, an American political group which openly raised money in Boston and other American cities, often playing on people’s ancestral ties to Ireland.
While not everyone in Boston contributed to NORAID, it was done with the blessing and active support of a large proportion of the population including many of the city leaders.
The upper echelons of Boston and other US cities often played host to members of the Provisional IRA such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness who travelled to the United States on fund-raising trips.
There is plenty of evidence from the British, Irish and US governments that the money was used to buy weapons including the notorious explosive Semtex which the IRA purchased in large quantities from the Libyan government.
According to the CAIN research project at the University of Ulster, the Provisional IRA killed 1824 people during the three decades of The Troubles, of which 621 were civilians. Murderous attacks included the Guildford pub bombing (5 dead, 54 injured), the Woolwich pub bombing (2 dead, 28 injured), and the Hyde Park and Regents Park bombings in 1982 in which the IRA attacked a parade, killing 11 soldiers and injuring 50 other people.
The Boston Marathon bombing was eerily reminiscent of The Troubles and has made me think again about the links between NORAID, the IRA and terrorism.
Apparently I’m not the only one thinking this either. I have seen comments on a number of websites making similar points.
I also spoke to Patrick Mercer MP, a former infantry officer in the British army who completed nine tours in Northern Ireland. He was also a previous Conservative Party’s shadow minister for Homeland Security.
He told me: “I imagine those who live in Boston who have supported violence in the past will be appalled now that it’s happened in their midst.”
Compassionate people would agree that there is no excuse for terrorism, and by extension, there is no excuse for supporting it.
And yet thousands of Americans, including people who live in Boston, gave millions of dollars to NORAID which was used to buy guns and Semtex and support the Provisional IRA terrorist infrastructure.
Perhaps it is easy to support terrorism when the impact – explosions, deaths and life-changing injuries – isn’t on your doorstep. It’s easy to support a war when you can romanticise the conflict from a distance, telling yourself it’s all about your cultural heritage, especially when you don’t have to live with the consequences of bombs and interminable bomb scares.
However, in my view, you cannot draw a distinction between what happened on Monday and the terrorist bombs which targeted so many cities in England. They may be separated in time by 10 or 20 years, but there is no difference.
With a jury having now sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, is it time for the historical misguided popular support for NORAID to, if not publicly, apologise for their actions and to question how different they are in reality to Tsarnaev?
This article, written by Tom Reeve was first published on 17 Apr 2013 with additional comment today from Philip Ingram.