Neither Forgiving Nor Forgetting…

Sinn Féin, under the leadership of Adams and McGuinness, pulled off a neat trick, earning praise for their role in ending Northern Irish violence while escaping blame for having caused it in the first place. It makes a lot sense for politicians to accept this little game now decades of appalling violence have ended. But what is politic can also be disingenuous.

To be sure, this picture is by no means black and white. Republicans, and Catholics in general, had faced grave abuse, at the hands of loyalists and of the British army. (In the Falls Curfew, for example, four civilians were shot for doing nothing more than being outside.) I can understand why alienated Catholics were attracted to the IRA, and admire their courage, ingenuity and selflessness. They were daring, dedicated, romantic and wrong. Their goal of a united Ireland was arrogant and absurd as a minority within a minority, and their methods, which included bombs in restaurants and pubs, and murders of young women and old men as well as British soldiers, were abonimable.

Adams and McGuinness earned themselves some credit by accepting negotiations, and dragging their comrades towards a peace settlement. Even if they thought the IRA was doomed militarily, at least Britain was spared the horrors of its death throes. Still, the credit one deserves for ending violence is limited if one has caused it. How much thanks should you give me if I stop punching you?

What disgusts me, even if I respect their political gifts, is the extent to which they have avoided blame. Adams, especially, behaves as if the IRA were always saints and never sinners. Sinn Féin still lament the shooting of IRA members in Gibraltar, which, in fairness, might have been unjustifiable. But no one denies that the IRA men and women were planning to bomb the weekly parade of a military band. Would that have been more legitimate than their killings? I propose that it would have been less.

In one article, in 2012, Adams referred to an event where “two armed British soldiers attacked mourners” but were “overpowered and killed by the IRA”. Corporals Howse and Wood had blundered into a funeral procession when IRA members, enraged by an attack on a funeral three days before, pulled them out of their car, stripped, punched, kicked, shot and stabbed them. A priest who intervened was told to stop or be murdered as well.

I understand why McGuinness is being praised, having died, after a longish life, of natural causes. But I hope we do not forget the people who died young, in violence, for no good reason.

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About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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4 Responses to Neither Forgiving Nor Forgetting…

  1. Whyaxye says:

    “their methods, which included bombs in restaurants and pubs, and murders of young women and old men”

    Not forgetting young children. For example, three-year old Jonathan Ball, killed by a terrorist bomb in Warrington in 1993. While buying a mother’s day card with his babysitter.

    Supporters of McGuinness cite his turn towards peaceful politics, whereas opponents claim that this change of heart was due to his need to save his own skin, the IRA being comprehensively infiltrated and a murder charge looking increasingly likely. Add war-weariness and the careerist vanities of John Major and Tony Blair, and there is the opportunity for the IRA to come up smelling more of roses than cordite. Either way, McGuinness was probably the type of psychopath that rises to the top when societies and communities are in turmoil. Even John Humphrys on the Today programme said he found him “terrifying”. This from a man who interviewed him in a nice warm studio over a cup of BBC coffee.

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    • bsixsmith says:

      Good point about Major and Blair. TB will be dining out on the Good Friday Agreement for years to come, because it’s one of few achievements (mixed as it is) that people credit to him.

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  2. Simon says:

    I wonder if Sinn Féin’s renewed IRA apologism has to do with them apparently deciding to copy the Trumpist playbook… which has by now established a guaranteed-to-work formula for successful populist movements in the 21st century. See also their internet meme-laden campaign SF ran during the Northern Irish election this year, what with their endless crocodile jokes being both a Pepe the Frog analogue *and* a “Deplorables”-type repurposed insult – which resulted in their best election in Northern Ireland ever. After all, another key part of the alt-right ethos is a steadfast refusal to distance themselves from the movement’s most extreme corners.

    Consider also how the doomsday scenarios that Donald Trump evoked in his campaign speeches and much of his rhetoric were almost copied off the narratives of the Randy Weaver/Tim McVeigh/Cliven & Ammon Bundy US right-wing militia subculture to the point it sounded like he was deliberately catering to that crowd. I. e. he’s shown it’s not political suicide at all to position yourself in the same idea-space as nationalist guerillas.

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    • bsixsmith says:

      Yes, I think you’re right. (I always wondered if things like retweeting accounts called “WhiteGenocide” was accidental or testing the waters to see how far he could go.)

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