A LYTHAM-based bestselling author and former soldier has become one of the first graduates from the Leadership for Peace programme in Warring
Steven McLaughlin, 40, graduated from the course at Warrington Peace Centre, after attending a number of conflict-resolution sessions with former soldiers, combatant and conflict victims from around the world, including members of the IRA and UVF
Steven said: “Initially it’s a deeply unsettling feeling to be sitting in a confessional setting with individuals that all of your training and past conditioning tells you are ‘the enemy’.
“But as you begin to talk you begin to understand and then you can move beyond the labels and stride towards resolution, awareness and respect.
“You have to completely remove your own ego from the equation and accept that at times your country and its army has been wrong and acted as an aggressor, spilling its own share of innocent blood. That’s not an easy thing to admit to and many simply can’t go that far as it threatens their sense of identity and victimhood.
“The fact that the person you’re talking to may have been involved with the IRA, UVF or the PLO begins to fall away – because the truth is it’s incredibly difficult for them too, when they’re faced with a former soldier, enemy-fighter or victim of their actions.”
The Warrington Peace Centre was founded by Colin Parry after his 12-year-old son Tim was killed by the IRA in the 1993 Warrington bomb blast, along with three-year-old Jonathon Ball.
The techniques used in the centre are modelled on those used by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the South African Truth and Reconciliation hearings, with an emphasis on healing, acceptance and complete honesty about what one has done, and why.
Steven said “I had the privilege of meeting Colin and was awed, overwhelmed and humbled at what he’s managed to achieve with the Peace Centre. He could not have built a more apt and better legacy for Tim and Jonathon.”
The Peace Centre first became aware of Steven after reading his acclaimed military memoir Squaddie: A Soldier’s Story, and he was invited to Warrington to talk of his experiences as a member of the elite Royal Green Jackets, with tours in Iraq and Northern Ireland.
Steven’s brother Damian was killed in a car crash in May 2001, a week before he was due to leave the Royal Green Jackets, known for its strict entrance qualifications.
Despite being older than entry requirements allowed, Steven persuaded Army bosses to let him join as a tribute to his brother. His book Squaddie charts that. He has since become a media commentator on Army issues and a Prince’s Trust leader.