The irony of shaking a hand covered in Irish blood
One of the things we like to say about Americans is that they have no sense of irony. It may well be true. But I wonder what Americans would say about us, given the news that Bula Resources, a company chaired by the great peace-maker Albert Reynolds, has sold some of its shares to a subsidiary of the Gadafy International Foundation for Charity Associations. The foundation is run by Seif al-Islam Gadafy, whose father, Mu'ammar, fuelled the very conflict that Albert Reynolds, as taoiseach, did so much to solve.
In how many other democracies would it seem so unremarkable for a former prime minister and current member of parliament to hold so few grudges against a foreign leader who set out to destroy that very democracy?
The subject, to be fair, is obviously a sensitive one. Last Friday, Bula issued a statement to the stock exchange claiming that the Gadafy foundation subsidiary "does not have any links to any Government authorities within the Great Jamahiriya of Libya or with any other country in the world and should not be referred to as 'an investment arm of the Libyan government'."
This may come as something of a surprise to the foundation itself, which makes no secret of the fact that it is run by "the illustrious son of the Great Leader of the Great Libyan Arab People's Jamahiriya". It might also be news to anyone who observed events in the Philippines in August last year, when the foundation negotiated with the Abu Sayyaf Islamic terror group for the release of Western hostages.
At the time, the foundation's negotiator said: "We promise you, with the supervision of the Libyan leader, Mu'ammar Gadafy, and support of his son, Seif al-Islam, that we will pursue our efforts to free the remaining hostages." A spokesman for the foundation told the hostages: "Don't forget the name of Mu'ammar Gadafy. . .It's the name of the man who freed you." No one seems to have told him that the "Great Leader" had no connection to his son's foundation.
Col Gadafy's public assault on Irish democracy began as far back as June 1972, when he announced at a rally in Tripoli that he had supplied arms to "the Irish revolutionaries who are fighting Britain".
In 1986, in an interview with Una Claffey on RT╔, Gadafy called on "all Irish youths in the North and South to participate in the struggle for the liberation of Ulster" - a clear incitement to citizens of the Republic to join the IRA. Only in March 1992 did Gadafy finally announce that he was cutting all ties with the IRA.
Four major shipments of arms and explosives totalling between 113 and 154 tonnes reached the IRA from Libya between August 1985 and September 1986. Among the material the IRA obtained from Gadafy were large quantities of AK-47s, Russian-made heavy machine guns, and SAM-7 rocket-launchers. But the key element was six tons of Semtex plastic explosive.
Virtually every IRA bomb since 1986 has incorporated this Libyan-supplied Semtex. It was used to kill, for example, six British soldiers taking part in a fun-run to raise money for charity in Lisburn in 1988. And Wilson Smyth, a Protestant post office worker unconnected to the security forces, in 1988. And Alwyn Harris, an RUC superintendent described by Father Denis Faul as exactly the kind of honest officer on whom a trustworthy police force could be built. (He was on sick leave with a heart condition and was driving with his wife to a church service when the Semtex under his car exploded in 1989). And Robert Glover, a Protestant regarded as a scrupulously fair employer, who was blown to bits in 1989 because, the IRA said, his family contracting firm had supplied building material to the security forces.
And James and Ellen Sefton, a Protestant couple in their mid-60s blown apart in 1990 in an IRA operation so nakedly sectarian that even Gerry Adams admitted at the time that it was indefensible. And Robert Orr, a Protestant killed with Semtex in 1991, for no obvious reason other than his role as a prominent Orangeman. And James Woods, a 23-year-old Saint Vincent de Paul volunteer killed in 1991 by a Semtex blast bomb presumably intended for an army or RUC patrol.
And, of course, the 29 people murdered by the "Real IRA" bomb in Omagh in August 1998, a bomb whose mix of fertiliser and fuel oil was made much more devastating by the addition of some of Col Gadafy's gift of Semtex to the Irish people.
Gadafy, in other words, has Irish blood on his hands. He interfered outrageously in our affairs, urging our citizens to revolt against the elected government. He has never apologised for attacking our sovereignty without provocation. He has never expressed regret for the crimes to which he was a party. He has never offered to compensate the victims of his malign meddling. Yet, with extraordinary gutlessness, we continue to suck up to him. The reason is very simple: money. Libya is rich and the opportunities for profit, especially in the oil and beef businesses, are tempting.
As a businessman, Albert Reynolds has, of course, as much right as anyone else to pursue those profits. As a public representative, though, he might think about the implications of what his company is doing. And as a man who wants to be remembered for getting the guns out of Irish politics, he might remember who did so much to put them in there in the first place.