Friday 19 January 2018

Facing up to atrocities can free us from baleful past

The execution of four anti-Treaty men shaped Irish politics for nearly a century, writes Ulick O'Connor

When Leo Varadkar admitted in the Dail last week that Fine Gael in a previous incarnation had been guilty of atrocities including murder during the Civil War, he was asking for a full admission from all those who had engaged in the recent Northern Ireland troubles. It was a welcome recognition of the reality of our bloody history at a time when it is fashionable to pretend that the past is irrelevant.

Date-wise it was dead on. Next Thursday is the 89th anniversary of one of the most horrific of these events. In June 1922 the original Sinn Fein had won a majority in the general election, but the party had split over the signing of the Treaty and those who had opposed it had resorted to armed force. A Civil War began between the Free State and the Anti-Treaty-ites who were known as the Irregulars.

Five months into the Civil War a member of the Dail, Sean Hales, was shot dead in the street. A warning had been issued a few weeks before by the irregular forces that Dail members could be shot on sight. After the meeting of the Cabinet on December 7 it was decided by the Free State government to take out four prisoners from the opposite side who were in Mountjoy prison and execute them as "a deterrent".

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