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Sinn Fein rising – thoughts from a Brit

February 14, 2020

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens in politics these days. At least not after the Brexit referendum, the malarkeys of Trump, the election of Britain’s most extreme government in living memory, the resurgence in anti-Semitism under the unlikely umbrella of the Labour Party and the slew of governments with an authoritarian bent in all manner of countries where you would least expect to see them.

But I have to admit that the voters of Ireland opting in unprecedented numbers for Sinn Fein is right up there. I do understand the desire of young people both sides of the Irish border for a united Ireland. And yes, I accept that we should regard the party in the North as a political movement that since 1998 has opted for the ballot box over the gun, and through a political agreement is deemed to be respectable enough to share power with the Democratic Unionists.

And yet I can’t forget that not so long ago they were the “political wing” of a movement that also included battalions of bombers and gunmen intent on killing their way to their desired political end. I also can’t forget how, when I married my beloved wife in a southern Irish town, I was assured by all and sundry that such atrocities as were still going on in the north had no place and minimal support in the south.

I remember well the little game played by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who claimed distance from the IRA, while most of the people with an ounce of insight into the affairs of the province knew well that they deeply involved.

Though I was no more than a bystander through the Troubles, I know people who were shot at by the IRA, while Adams and McGuinness, as leaders of Sinn Fein, blithely maintained that they “didn’t speak” for them.

So under the Good Friday Agreement, it was determined that all sides should let bygones be bygones. The murderers on both sides of the sectarian divide put away their weapons. The thousands of the bereaved – the families of the IRA and its various factions, of the loyalist paramilitaries, of the police and soldiers and of the innocent bystanders – were left to mourn their dead.

I, and everyone else who lived through the bombings and the assassinations, am therefore expected to say that that was then, and this is now. Just as black South Africans, oppressed for decades, were expected to forgive their oppressors when the wall of apartheid finally came down.

So be it. And I accept that there are many voters in Ireland who don’t care about old allegiances and have no sectarian beliefs. They would like to see a united Ireland, and so, actually, would I. Whether those voters are in a majority, and whether those who come from the Unionist tradition are insistent enough to persuade their parents and grandparents to set aside their fears of marginalisation, remains to be seen.

Certainly I can forgive, yet I can’t escape the feeling of distaste at the rise of Sinn Fein, whose name I associate with cruelty and mayhem, now standing on the brink of power. And although there are people I know who most likely will have voted for them, in the interests of friendship I will not be reminding them of the violence their political forebears inflicted on my forebears.

I will also not accept the silver-tongued whataboutery of the IRA’s apologists in my country. I know about Cromwell, the plantations, the famine, the Easter Rising, the Black and Tans, the suppression of civil rights and all the other malfeasance that fuelled the violence of the most recent Troubles. Many wrongs do not make a right.

The innocents who died in Omagh, Belfast, Warrington, Birmingham and countless other locations bore no responsibility for the misdeeds of the past. And in case we think that the modern Sinn Fein is long divorced by the passage of time from the viciousness of their former brothers-in-arms, we should remember that as late as in 2005, Mitchel McLaughlin, a former Sinn Fein speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, felt the need to comment that the execution of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten suspected of being a British Army informer, who was kidnapped, shot in the head and buried by a beach like an unbaptised child laid to rest in a cillín, was not a crime.

McConville was killed in 1972. Her body was not discovered until 2003, four years after the IRA provided information as to her whereabouts. No evidence was ever produced of her informing activities.

So to the good people of Ireland, as always I wish you the best. It’s your country, your politics and it’s not for me to say whether or not you’ve done the right thing. And to Sinn Fein, good luck, govern well if you get the chance, and do the right thing. But for what it’s worth, don’t expect me to cheer you on. I can’t. You are tainted, and I suspect ever will be in the minds of my generation.

From → Politics, Religion, UK

  1. And we MUST still hate the Germans….you won, get over it?

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