We can't let SF use 1916 to justify IRA's recent campaign of violence
Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30
Whatever about our aspirations to be the best little country in the world in which to do business, we could certainly win prizes for being best little nation in the world for remembering, if the programme of 1916 commemorations just started is anything to go by.
Remembering is important in nation-building and so is forgetting. In the final chapter of his monumental history of Europe since World War II, Tony Judt teases out the vital role played by remembering and forgetting in transcending the unbridled savagery of the war to create, miraculously, the Europe we have today.
Before Europeans could forget the horrors of the war, in order to get on with building peace and prosperity, they first had to remember.
But, crucially, it had to be an accurate, truthful remembering. It could not be a self-serving narrative that justified terrible deeds, interpreted them as heroic or airbrushed them out of the picture.
For two decades after the war there was forgetting right across Europe, especially about official collusion in most occupied countries in the rounding up of Jews for dispatch to the death camps. But this was forgetting as denial, cover-up and amnesia, justifying or suppressing the awfulness of what was done and shirking responsibility for it.
In this context, how are we being asked, specifically by Sinn Féin, to remember and forget the 30-year IRA campaign of violence in recent times, and what are the implications for the party's role in nation-building as public representatives?
A recent newspaper photograph is telling. It shows Martin Ferris at Banna Strand at the launch of Sinn Féin's programme of events in Kerry to mark the 1916 centenary. He was also there to remember, with pride, his ill-fated effort to import a ship-load of arms and explosives for the IRA in 1984. If the narrative that Sinn Féin persists in weaving about such activities goes unchallenged, then it is only a matter of time before Martin will be "praised in song and story, heroes of renown" by the Wolfe Tones.
Likewise, Thomas Murphy, that "nice, typical rural man" (according to Mary Lou McDonald - God bless her innocence) who rules the roost in south Armagh and north Louth. Such a "good republican" (according to Gerry Adams) must surely merit a monument and a rousing ballad.
In Sinn Féin circles, men and women who gave "active service" are revered and lionised as heroes of the "armed struggle."
However, as a society, we cannot just forget, lazily buying in to this romanticised version of a murderous crusade that left thousands of Irish men, women and children dead and many more maimed for life.
As Sarah Reavey, who heads WAVE, a cross-community victims group in Northern Ireland, puts it: "It is a matter of principle. History has to be told accurately". Her three uncles were murdered by the loyalist Glenane gang in 1976.
In their "fight for Irish freedom", guns imported by the IRA were used to slaughter 10 Protestant workers in Kingsmill. For sheer, cold-blooded savagery how was this any different to the mass murder of 'Charlie Hebdo' staff by Isil terrorists? Were the Paris restaurant attacks any different to the Birmingham pub bombs?
The orchestrated Sinn Féin response, when challenged to justify equally shocking acts of terror, is to say that "these things happen in war".
These things did not just "happen"; they were carefully planned and executed by IRA members and sanctioned by an Army Council that still exists 45 years on, retains imported arms and exercises "overarching control" of the republican movement.
Whatever the legitimacy of IRA violence to defend against what many, in the North especially, experienced as an existential threat at the outset, sustaining its offensive campaign of terror for decades had no moral justification.
As long as the Sinn Féin party line continues to justify IRA atrocities, then the potential contribution to nation-building of its undoubtedly talented and hard-working public representatives will never be fully realised.
Approaching a General Election, Sinn Féin may defend their economic and social policies but what they define as a legitimate war against the British, in the cause of Irish freedom, cannot be defended.
I believe they know this, because they keep repeating: 'that's not what people are talking about on the doorsteps, they want to talk about austerity and water charges, they are not interested in the past.'
But, as Ms Reavey says, "politicians want us to forget the past because some of them have so much to lose".
We owe it to those who were murdered to remember, accurately, before we can forget.
Eddie Molloy is a republican