Sunday 15 September 2019

The strange case of the unmentionable IRA

Father-of-seven Tom Oliver was abducted and murdered in Co Louth
Father-of-seven Tom Oliver was abducted and murdered in Co Louth
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Last week's episode of Crimecall had a piece on the 2007 murder of Paul Quinn, a 21-year-old beaten to death in a barn near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, by a gang of 10 to 12 men. Any mention of this atrocity is invariably accompanied by the line, that it is thought that members of the IRA were involved in the murder.

The previous episode of Crimecall also had a piece on a crime widely believed to be committed by members of the IRA, the murder of Tom Oliver in Cooley, Co Louth, in 1991.

Like the item on Paul Quinn, the story of Tom Oliver was re-told with considerable care and sensitivity.

There were testimonies from family members, bringing an emotional resonance to what might otherwise have seemed like the dispassionate work of the Garda revisiting these cold cases.

It was admirable in itself that the Garda was not giving up, still asking for anybody who knows anything to come forward.

So it took me a while to notice that the Tom Oliver piece, for all its merits, was lacking something.

Indeed it was lacking something of such importance I started to wonder if I had missed it somehow because I had only happened upon the piece by accident, and maybe I wasn't tuned into it properly.

But no, it wasn't me, it was them who had found a way to cover the murder of Tom Oliver without mentioning the IRA.

As if to show that this was no accident, last week they also got through the beating to death of Paul Quinn without mentioning the IRA.

I have not the slightest idea why they would do this, why in going to such trouble to recall these stories, they would leave out such a vital piece of, shall we say, background material.

In both cases, they seemed to be appealing primarily to those who had been involved in some way in the murders, to break their silence.

Of course those people would know all about the believed involvement of the IRA, and would not need to be reminded of it.

But there are other viewers who do need to be reminded of these things or who may not even have known about them in the first place because they were too young at the time.

Again, I have no idea why Crimecall would not regard this as a public service of some kind, quite apart from its benefit in conveying the broader truth of the matter.

What I do know, is that IRA/Sinn Fein must be looking at this stuff and starting to wonder if the realisation of their project is going to be almost too easy.

They are serious and committed people after all, who enjoy a challenge. Yet here are detailed TV treatments of two of the most staggeringly repulsive things they ever did, which somehow leave out the only detail that would cause them grief.

They must be wondering if their mission is going to be just so easy, it is almost unworthy of them? After the armed struggle, is this going to be any kind of a struggle at all?

The murders of Tom Oliver and Paul Quinn happened while Gerry Adams was leader of Sinn Fein, but then so many things happened during that time, it seemed that himself and Mugabe were the only fixed points in a turbulent universe - quite a coincidence that they both went at the same time, though of course Gerry is not really going anywhere.

Mugabe was eventually escorted from the building and replaced by a like-minded individual on some sort of constitutional or democratic pretext, whereas Sinn Fein will not be going too far down that road in the selection of its next president, Mary Lou McDonald.

Nor indeed did they concern themselves too much with the ballot box, when they declared that Michelle O'Neill would now be the leader of the party in "the North".

So we've been hearing "veteran commentators" musing on the essentially undemocratic way in which Sinn Fein organises its own affairs, without making too big a deal out of it - I mean it's faintly disturbing, but sure, what the hell?

The veteran commentators did however get very annoyed when Leo Varadkar compared McDonald with Marine Le Pen, considering this an outrageous thing to say - irresponsible even.

To be sure, it was controversial to be comparing her to the leader of a nationalist movement with such a terrible past. Mary Lou wouldn't have enjoyed the comparison either, for her own reasons.

But then, it's not just our old friends the veteran commentators who seem fairly relaxed about this Sinn Fein thing.

I saw a tweet last Saturday that went like this: "Incredible farewell speech by @GerryAdamsSF. Emotional for many reasons. History will remember him more fairly than today's partisan opponents and especially those INM wafflers."

It came from funnyman Oliver Callan, and for a while I tried to figure out if he was indeed trying to be funny here or if he was sincerely expressing his reverence for Gerry Adams in the sort of pseudo-serious terms you'd usually hear from a Sunday panellist on the Marian Finucane Show - "history will remember him more fairly…" "today's partisan opponents".

I guess he really meant it, and that such things should not be a surprise any more. "Partisan" they may be in the eyes of Oliver Callan, but the way it's going, "today's opponents" are few in number.

It's not that Official Ireland is not asking the hard questions, they're not even asking the easy ones any more, like "Is Sinn Fein still essentially a nationalist party?"

This would be relevant because nationalism in many other countries is clearly causing very ugly scenes, though Sinn Fein is probably the only such movement which until recently had its own army - again there are some who would be a bit worried about such a party being in government, given the times that are in it, but sure, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Indeed looking at Crimecall, you could form the surreal impression that we have already crossed that bridge. That such is this eagerness to accept Sinn Fein as a normal political party that is "left-wing" and not really madly nationalist any more, the type that has actual leadership elections and doesn't pay homage to its own army, we're already seeing these weird visions of the future in which accounts of notorious IRA murders no longer mention the IRA.

We are already seeing what our grandchildren will be seeing, the "history that will remember them more fairly". Or even the history that will not remember them at all - not the bad stuff anyway.

We may as well get used to it because with all that energy and seriousness of theirs, Sinn Fein under its new middle-class management would be on its way to All-Ireland glory even if they were being given a much harder ride.

Instead, they can be watching a TV reprise of one of the IRA's worst atrocities, with the IRA entirely out of the picture.

They are getting there, without firing a shot.

Sunday Independent

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