‘There needed to be violence ... there was no alternative’

Councillor Brendan Curran
Councillor Brendan Curran

BRENDAN Curran remembers, aged 16, arguing with his father who was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, that their approach would never work.

Ten years later he was in Long Kesh prison alongside current Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Bobby Sands, who was elected MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, and later died after 65 days on hunger strike.

Now a councillor in Banbridge, Brendan recalls the seven-and-a-half years he spent in the Maze prison for conspiracy to cause an explosion as “a non-period”, the day-to-day activities of which he says he remembers little.

Two years after his release from prison, after being convicted of conspiracy to cause an explosion, he was elected to Craigavon Borough Council representing Sinn Féin, seeing it as the right time to take up politics as an alternative to violence.

As a teenager he looked on the popular civil rights movement as futile.

“They were not getting civil rights,” he said. “So there were two options, you either got battered into the ground and accepted it and went back to where you were, or you took up arms.

“You had to fight back. You had to respond to the state the way the state was responding to you. There was no alternative and to me that was evident.”

The 62-year-old maintains the violence which became known as ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was necessary and inevitable to get to the current political situation.

It will be a controversial, and indeed replusive view to many, but the councillor – whose mother hailed from Katesbridge and father came from Ballela – is sure and certain of it.

He said, “There needed to be violence – and war is death, there’s no point calling it anything else.

“There are all sorts of other factors but you never would have got here without armed struggle, because the alternative was for the nationalist people to either leave the north or drop their heads, go back into their corners and stay there.”

And while he does not regret his part in that “struggle” – he is careful to point out he was never convicted of membership of the IRA - he admits there were violent incidents he found hard to accept.

“The biggest thing I had difficulty reconciling happened when I was in prison - La Mon (12 people were killed in the La Mon restaurant, and 23 were injured in the Provisional IRA bombing in 1978).

“I had no part in it, that would’ve been physically impossible. But just because I was in jail doesn’t allow me to say ‘That has nothing to do with me’.

“I was a Republican. There are things that are impossible to justify. From a tactical viewpoint you can explain why things happen, but that is different to justifying it. I can understand how things happened, that doesn’t mean you can justify it.”

He became a of victim of the violence himself when, in 1992 his partner Sheena Campbell was murdered.

But he is very matter-of-fact in explaining that he feels no sense of bitterness.

“Sheena was never involved in armed struggle, but she, as a republican, still knew she was a target for people,” he said.

“You accept it and get on with things.”

He almost died during what he believes was a murder attempt in 1990 at his parent’s home on the Ballydougan Road in Gilford.

And he still bears the scars – and shrapnel – from that day.

If you’re involved in armed struggle, then there’s consequences that come with it,” he said.

“In a war situation there is always the chance of being killed, or wounded. I didn’t want to die. I don’t go for the ‘I was prepared to die for my country’ rhetoric.

“But you know it’s a possibility, a very strong one. You accept that at the beginning, or you certainly should. That’s the risk you take. There’s not much point in whinging about it afterwards.”

For innocent victims caught up in the horror of the Troubles it will be difficult to reconcile the words of someone convicted of an offence during those years.

And while it may seem like too little, too late, Brendan fully admits he cannot justify any killing of “innocents” by the IRA.

“In any war situation there is a duty on all combatants. That responsibility also applies to those who create the scenario for armed conflict or who give support to either side.

“There was no justification for the killing of innocents in the Irish war, just as there was no justification for the killing of innocents in Dresden during the war in which my aunt was involved.”

Something many will no doubt find hard to believe, is Brendan’s claim that he even struck up a kind of relationship with those he was “in conflict” with.

He said, “I met prison officers and policemen I would have had a lot of respect for, at the same time as I was involved in the conflict, because of the way they behaved themselves. “They were the enemy, they saw me as the enemy, but still there was a degree of respect there.”

So what of the future? And the dissident threat which the PSNI say is still at a “severe” level?

Brendan does not rush to condemn the dissidents – who have been responsible for the murders of two soldiers and two police officers in the past three years - with strong words of condemnation.

In a measured tone he simply says, “We’ve had armed struggle; there has to be a political solution. We have the opportunity now to achieve our goal through politics, once you have that opportunity you can’t justify (violence).”