Would You Believe?

The Secret Peacemaker

Fr Alec Reid pictured at Clonard Monastery
Fr Alec Reid pictured at Clonard Monastery

RTÉ One, Sunday 1 April, 10.35pm

Many images of Northern Ireland during the Troubles are impossible to erase from the memory. The terror and chaos of Bloody Sunday; the devastation of bombs in Enniskillen, Omagh and the Shankill Road; the aftermath of the Loughinisland and Greysteel massacres; the grief-stricken faces of families and friends.

In 1988, however, at the height of the conflict, one image simultaneously horrified, moved and inspired people all over the world, as it captured the best and worst of humanity in a single frame. With no regard for his own safety, an unknown priest knelt over one of two British Army Corporals, stripped and killed by a West Belfast mob, and administered the last rites.

That priest was Father Alec Reid, a Tipperary-born Redemptorist from the Clonard Monastery on West Belfast's Falls Road. What the photo didn't show was that he was already on another mission. That day, he was actually carrying some of the first documents of what would become the peace process.

This is the story of Fr Alec Reid, The Secret Peacemaker, the man who helped stopped the killing. Now 80 and in declining health, he offers his unique insights into the rocky road to peace, alongside those of other key players and commentators who travelled that road with him.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is unequivocal about the special role that the Clonard Redemptorists played in the peace process, and in particular the role of Alec Reid, who acted as a personal go-between and facilitator between Adams, John Hume and the Irish and British Governments: "Clonard is the cradle of the peace process.... Without the persistence of Alec, there would be no peace process.''

Former Irish Government Negotiator Martin Mansergh reveals that the late Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, recognised Alec Reid as the "most important person in the entire Peace Process, bar none." And Reid's fellow Redemptorist, Fr Gerry Reynolds, comments, "Alex facilitated the dialogue, and without dialogue, there cannot be peace."

Would You Believe? reveals how Reid's tenacity, faith and even naïvety created conditions and lines of dialogue which made the unthinkable achievable: the Good Friday Agreement, disarmament and the power-sharing self-government that followed. Reid was one of just two people trusted to oversee the process of paramilitary weapons de-commissioning, alongside the Methodist Minister, Harold Good, who says: "A miracle to me is something that to me is beyond human explanation. I believe that the journey we have taken is quite miraculous."

The Secret Peacemaker tells the story of Alec Reid's reluctant role as peace-broker, and the people. However, the programme also delves into some allegations that he was an IRA apologist and naïve lackey, used and abused by players on all sides in the Troubles. For instance, Alan McBride, whose wife, Sharon, and father-in-law died in the Shankill fish shop bomb, talks about his sense of outrage, when Reid compared Unionist treatment of Nationalists to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews.

Perhaps Fr Reid's best answer to any questions raised about his role and actions, however, is the previously unimaginable peace, stability and co-operation of today's situation.

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