Friday, February 26, 2016

All brought on by their own actions

By the time you read this column/blog the election will be all but over bar the most important bit – the peoples vote on Friday. Today it’s over to the electorate in the 26 counties to decide which parties will make up the next government in Dublin. We will know their decision at the weekend.
For readers in the north it will come as no surprise that the entirely negative and partitionist attitude of the Irish establishment toward the people of this part of the island disappointingly emerged frequently in recent weeks.
First, it was an opinion piece in the Sunday Independent two weeks ago from the Labour leader Joan Burton in which she unsurprisingly took 600 words to reveal her deeply partitionist, ‘little Irelander’ side. According to Joan, and because I come from the north, I don’t understand ‘the Republic’. I suspect the elections results will show that she understands it even less.
More disturbing was a studio discussion I had with Meath Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty whose attitude to victims in the north shocked many who heard or subsequently read her remarks. Along with mise and Emma Coffey, a candidate from Fianna Fáil, we were all in Drogheda for a discussion on the local LMFM radio – which covers counties Louth and Meath.
In the course of it the issue of legacy matters arising out of the conflict came up. When Ms Doherty attacked me on this issue I reminded her that the family of Seamus Ludlow have taken the government to court because of its refusal to implement the Barron Commission proposal for a Commission of Investigation. Seamus Ludlow was killed by Unionist paramilitaries in collusion with members of the British forces in May 1976.
I also reminded her of the two Dundalk men, Hugh Watters and Jack Rooney, who were killed in an explosion at Kay’s Tavern in December 1975 an attack also carried out with the collusion of British forces.
I was making the case that all victims needed to be treated equally and their families needed to be supported and helped to find closure where that is possible. In trying to explain why this is not an academic issue for me or for Sinn Féin I also said:
“When I talk about people who have been bereaved or who are grieving, it isn't an academic exercise… Two members of my family were killed, one by unionist paramilitaries and the other by the British Army. My sister was six months pregnant when her husband was killed in Ballymurphy by the Parachute Regiment. My brother was seriously shot; I have been shot. 
My family home has been bombed, my office has been bombed, in my constituency office in west Belfast – three people in the waiting room were killed.”
Regina Doherty’s response was; “All brought on by your own actions, Gerry.”
So, according to Doherty I am responsible for the RUC officer, Allen Moore, who came to my office and using a shotgun killed two constituency workers Pat McBride (40) and Paddy Loughran (61) and Michael O'Dwyer (21), who had called into the office with his two-year-old son to seek advice on a local constituency issue.
Regrettably these truly awful comments are part and parcel of the narrative of the establishment parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour – when it comes to addressing the consequences of partition and the impact of the conflict.
In their world – as former Fine Gael leader John Bruton likes to claim at every opportunity – the Rising was wrong. It wasn’t necessary. The British were going to concede independence anyway.
And when partition created the conditions for recurring conflict in the north it was everyone else’s fault except the British or the unionists. Forget the violent suppression by the RUC of the civil rights campaign; or the permanent existence and use of the Special Powers Act; or the institutional political, economic and religious discrimination against Catholics; or the violence of the unionist state and of unionist paramilitary groups; or of British state collusion; or of shoot-to-kill; or the torture of detainees. Forget all of that. None of it matters. In the narrative of the establishment parties and of politicians like Regina Doherty it was all the fault of republicans.
In the south the issue of victims is only introduced by these parties in a narrow self-serving manner – mainly during elections but also in the cut and thrust of Dáil debates when they want to distract from their bad decisions in cutting benefits or allowances or their cosy arrangements with developers and bankers and the golden circles.
Between elections these same parties are deaf to the wishes of victims, and especially of the need to get the British government to honour its commitments on legacy agreements and to end its legal and political obstruction to families getting to the truth.
Like the Unionists in the North, these establishment parties have dominated Irish politics since partition and have been responsible for the deeply conservative political culture which has been to the disadvantage of the vast majority of citizens.

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Throughout the years of war successive Irish governments embraced the British narrative. In the USA they supported Britain’s efforts to prevent the passing of the McBride anti-discrimination laws to tackle discrimination in the north. They refused to engage with the peace process and when they eventually did they consistently failed to defend Irish national interests while acquiescing to the demands of successive British governments.
Toward the end of the recent negotiations both Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael/Labour government supported the adjournment or the suspension of the political institutions in the north. Why? Because they thought it would damage Sinn Féin. For no other reason. Local partisan politics were more important that the imperative of the peace process.
And so it is with the issue of victims. Ignored for most of the year some cases are opportunistically exploited if Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour think it can impact negatively on Sinn Féin. The fact is that there is a lot of mock outrage against Sinn Fein from these parties which trivialises the issue of victims.
If Sinn Féin and the unionist parties in the north behaved in this way then there would be no work done there. There would be no peace process.
And incidentally it’s worth pointing out that none of these parties had this problem with the Workers Party or Democratic Left back in the day when they served in coalition governments with these parties or when Democratic Left took over the leadership of the Labour Party. .
For Sinn Féin and for me the issue of victims is not just an issue for elections. It is an issue which we address every single day, talking to victims; speaking to groups that represent them; and pushing the Irish and British governments to honour their commitments on this issue.
On Monday Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty represented Fine Gael very well. The deaths and injuries of victims of the British state and of unionist paramilitaries were and I quote, all brought on by their own actions.

No comments: