Saturday 16 December 2017

Tom Oliver was no 'combatant' - his family deserves justice

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin has defended Gerry Adams’s objection to the killers of Tom Oliver being brought to justice. Picture: Collins
Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin has defended Gerry Adams’s objection to the killers of Tom Oliver being brought to justice. Picture: Collins
Tom Oliver
John Downing

John Downing

There is a danger that one simple fact will be overlooked as Sinn Féin questions the benefits of charging, and ultimately jailing, the murderers of Louth farmer Tom Oliver.

It is that the 37-year-old father-of-seven was never, ever, a "combatant". He was a farmer, a family man, murdered by IRA thugs, who later tried to calumniate him as their sometime collaborator-turned-police-informer.

Now the IRA's political manifestation, Sinn Féin, concedes that Mr Oliver's bereaved family do deserve justice and some form of resolution. But it clearly draws the line at a renewed Garda investigation into his 1991 murder going down the road of prosecutions, convictions and imprisonment.

It is also often forgotten that the IRA were the most effective brutal murderers of the Troubles. They murdered almost half the 3,770 people who lost their lives across those terrible years.

One-third of 1,771 people murdered by the IRA were civilians and most of those civilians were from the Catholic community. This speaks to another grim reality of almost all terror and terrorists: they spend a huge amount of time and effort terrorising their own people; the so-called imposition of discipline.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is busy in his continued re-writing of the recent history of these islands. It may be part of his imagined status of victor - or a continuing quest to style himself as victor.

Many talented party members, drawn from the so-called "post-conflict generation", back him in his work.

Dublin Mid-West TD Eoin Ó Broin, tipped by many as a future Sinn Féin leader, caused a storm of protest on social media and elsewhere following his comments in this newspaper on Thursday.

"I believe Gerry Adams's view has been twisted. We all acknowledge that victims on all sides must pursue justice and some kind of resolution for what happened. But I don't think the peace process benefits from the prosecution of former combatants, be they loyalists, security forces or republicans."

Read More: Troubles can't be used to 'whitewash heinous act', Varadkar warns Adams

Now let's be careful here. Mr Ó Broin never said Mr Oliver was a "combatant" and conversation with this writer never veered in that direction. He also stressed repeatedly that families like those of Mr Oliver were entitled to find out the truth and get some form of resolution.

But what form of truth and resolution can they get, other than the court proceedings which Sinn Féin argues trenchantly against?

Let's recall the comments of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, and those of others in Government and across all parties in response. It is that there have been no amnesties in the Republic of Ireland for serious crime - and there will not be amnesties. And let's keep all Dublin governments, current and future, to that pledge.

Trenchant critics of Sinn Féin, such as Willie O'Dea of Fianna Fáil, continually point out that the party's "younger breed" never contradict the diktat of their party president of 34 years. So, what would change after Gerry Adams's departure? Mr Ó Broin, unsurprisingly, insists he has formed his own opinions based on 22 years of party membership and 11 years spent living in Belfast, a city still deeply scarred by three decades of murder and mayhem.

The prospects for some kind of "truth process" in the North look grim, and outline plans sketched in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement are blocked by Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin's failures to do any kind of ongoing grown-up politics together.

Irish Independent

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