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Comment: Mary Lou's use of 'tiocfaidh ár lá' as a rallying cry evokes terrorism and the old war


Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams

Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams

Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams

It wasn't in the script but Mary Lou McDonald's body language didn't suggest she got carried away in the moment either.

"Up the Republic, up the rebels, agus tiocfaidh ár lá," she declared with her right arm hoisted in victory.

Critics who have questioned the new Sinn Féin leader's decision to hark back to a "dark time" are, according to the party, engaging in "nit-picking".

But why then did Ms McDonald feel the need to use a slogan long associated with the Provisional IRA? One that is bound to antagonise unionists.

Hunger striker Bobby Sands is credited with turning 'tiocfaidh ár lá' into a well-known phrase. He used it in diaries which were leaked from the Maze prison.

It became a rallying cry for Irish unity, used by those who believed, and in some cases still believe, that their goal could/can be achieved by bombing Britain out.

Sinn Féin argues that Ms McDonald's "tremendous" speech sought to reach out to the unionist community, "respecting each other's beliefs and traditions".

To an extent, that is true. She did speak about how both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland "don't have to agree on the past" because there is "no single historical narrative".

But it was that final line that made the evening news and will stick in the minds of those hoping the Dublin woman would strike for Sinn Féin's freedom from the IRA.

Instead, the new face of the party evoked images of the old war and terror that she herself said was long over.

Sinn Féin has long sought to profit both politically and financially from the slogan.

Its online shop is currently "sold out" of its €4.99 'Tiocfaidh Ár Lá' badge which comes in the shape of an Armalite rifle in the tricolour.

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But even if that association by the party itself with terrorism isn't enough, Ms McDonald could take a look at some recent court rulings.

In 2014, a judge at Belfast Magistrates Court ruled that 'tiocfaidh ár lá' met the criminal test of annoying members of the public.

A 40-year-old was convicted of disorderly behaviour over an early morning incident where he was shouting toward police outside a McDonald's.

The defendant's lawyer said the comments fell under freedom of expression entitlements within human rights legislation. Not so, said the judge.

More recently, in January 2017, a man who shouted the slogan after police were called to domestic incident in Belfast was given a one-month suspended jail term.

His barrister said the actions were fuelled by drink rather than any ideology.

And last October, a Belfast woman was awarded £20,000 (€22,500) after she had a phrase of "clear sectarian significance" shouted at her by a work colleague.

Of course, some in Sinn Féin may argue that actions speak louder than words.

But when it comes to politics in Northern Ireland, words matter.

Remember the time DUP leader Arlene Foster made reference to feeding the Sinn Féin crocodile?

That unnecessary verbal assault served only to inflame tensions between the two communities.

'Tiocfaidh ár lá' rolls off the tongue like many of the best political and sporting slogans.

It would make a great rallying cry for Irish teams, north and south - but first it would have to cleansed of its association with the Provisional IRA.

So long as Mary Lou McDonald refuses to disown the IRA, then her use of the phrase can only be linked to one thing.

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