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Kevin Myers: Most countries have experienced terrible events, but only we make a fetish of them

It's not a dream, it's not a nightmare: this is the asylum that we're in.

We are about to embark upon a new era of international rugby in the newest, smallest major rugby stadium in the world, with a capacity some 30,000 below known market-demand, even for visits from Italy. The 3,767 pages of my two-volume set of the 'Oxford English Dictionary' has many words for idiocy, but none that has sufficient power to adequately describe that particular project.

The same dictionaries are equally impotent in the face of the arrival of the 13th birthday of the Moriarty Tribunal. Thirteen years. That is one year longer than Roosevelt was in the White House: not so much of a New Deal as a really bum deal.

And so on and so forth. You can supply further examples yourself. But how is this possible? Why is this society so repeatedly dysfunctional? Is there some profound cultural inclination to assess evidence not on the facts that it contains, but on the passionate aspirations of those who are making the assessments? AfO -- A-factual Optimism -- is a crippling national vice that can and will corrupt anyone's judgments. No doubt AfO enabled the Minister for Defence Tony Killeen last weekend to celebrate the deaths of five Irish policemen and one Englishman slaughtered in an ambush at Rineen by some 50 IRA men, just 90 years ago.

Now most countries have experienced terrible events in the past century, but none other actually makes a fetish of them still, and in detail, as this state now celebrates ambush after ambush from the years 1920/21. What were tragic events -- the fratricidal killings of fellow-Irishmen -- have been now sanitised and fictionalised into sunny deeds worthy of parades and parties. Yet according to Richard Abbott's 'Police Casualties in Ireland' the RIC dead of Rineen -- Michael Hynes from Athlone, Michael Harte from Sligo, John Hodnett from Cork, Michael Kelly from Roscommon, John McGuire from Mayo and Reginald Hardman from London -- were cut down with dumdum bullets, and the wounded then finished off.

I had thought the celebrations of such obscene events to be largely confined to armed-force republicans and the dreamier ranks of Fianna Fail. But to see Michael McDowell in his RTE-hagiography of Michael Collins swept up with the AfO dementia suggests that malady is more widespread than I'd thought. Or maybe, I'm a victim of AfO too, in even believing that the leaders of this country might be saner than they really are.

In his film-biography of Collins, Michael McDowell seemed incapable of grasping the horror of the deeds he was waxing so lyrically about. Collins specialised in the murder of unarmed minor functionaries of the state, most of them Irish. None of them were really important people, all were replaceable, and a few were killed by accident: as in the case of Captain Patrick McCormack, an army veterinary surgeon murdered in the Gresham on Bloody Sunday, who had no intelligence role, and who was due shortly to take up duties in Cairo race-track. Oops, sorry. Another gang arrived at a house looking for a man named Fitzpatrick. There wasn't one, but there was a Fitzgerald, so they shot him instead. One Fitz fits all. Nearby, Captain Newbury was the intended target, and was -- as intended -- shot dead in front of his pregnant wife, who then gave birth to a still-born child. And so on.

This murderous opera-bouffe could not change the realities that the British empire was the mightiest in the world, and Britain was Ireland's sole trading partner. The outcome was inevitable: the Irish would end up doing largely what the British wanted. I say this as a fact of geopolitical life, not as an expression of my preferences. And that was what the Treaty was all about: a simple legal acknowledgement of economic and imperial realities.

Michael McDowell even asserted that we have a democracy thanks to Michael Collins. This is vapouring of the silliest and most adolescent kind. Every single government in Ireland has accepted the will of the electorate -- and if any single politician is responsible for vindicating the final authority of the ballot box, it was William Cosgrave in 1932, when he surrendered power to de Valera. More to the point, and far more terribly, Collins attempted to overthrow the new Northern Ireland state by force of arms -- just like his true heirs, the Provisional IRA.

You cannot in this country exult in the murders of men in their beds in 1920 without re-creating a moral universe in which others will emulate those killings today. We know this from bitter experience, down the decades: commemorations and celebrations of killings lead to more of the same. Yet even as dissident republicans heat up their campaign in the North, here we have both the Minister for Defence and the former leader of the PDs engaging in a renewed glorification of the authors of ambush and assassination. Such conduct requires an A-factual Optimism that is akin to having unprotected sex in a New York bath-house: the main difference being, of course, that others will probably do the dying.

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kmyers@independent.ie


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