Sunday 20 January 2019

Mary Lou worships a past that's not hers

The new Sinn Fein leader is trying to rewrite history to paint Martin McGuinness as a victim, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

New SF leader Mary Lou McDonald who signed off her inaugural leader’s speech with the slogan “Tiocfaidh ar la” refuses to break from the past, criticising Miriam O’Callaghan’s 2011 TV debate with Martin McGuinness
New SF leader Mary Lou McDonald who signed off her inaugural leader’s speech with the slogan “Tiocfaidh ar la” refuses to break from the past, criticising Miriam O’Callaghan’s 2011 TV debate with Martin McGuinness

Eilis O'Hanlon

Any hope that Mary Lou McDonald might begin her leadership of Sinn Fein by making a decisive break with the past were shattered when she ended her inaugural speech to the ard fheis which rubber-stamped her coronation with the old Provo slogan "Tiocfaidh ar la".

This was not seeking to atone for the republican movement's historic crimes so much as wallowing in them, in the hope that the stench will cling to her so thoroughly that no one will ever notice this is a borrowed perfume rather than one she's worn all her life.

Now comes the publication of statements which McDonald has given to the author of a new book about Martin McGuinness, published on the first anniversary of the former deputy first minister's death, in which the new SF head chose to revisit his 2011 campaign to become president of what Mary Lou calls, with all the dismissiveness of a born and bred Bogsider rather than a cosseted Trinity College graduate, the "southern state".

She was particularly incensed that Miriam O'Callaghan dared to ask McGuinness, during a televised candidates' debate, how he squared his reportedly devout Catholicism with support for a brutal armed struggle which killed so many people.

It's hardly an abnormal question. A recent edition of The Week magazine included an article excoriating President Trump for choosing Gina Haspel as the new director of the CIA - a woman who had overseen a facility in Thailand where two suspects were tortured. It concluded that "justifying or excusing torture is not and cannot be compatible with a life given to Jesus". Seems fair enough. Why shouldn't Martin McGuinness have been asked the same questions?

The answer of republicans usually goes along the lines of: "Well, why not ask Tony Blair the same question? He says he's a Christian, and he's been responsible for innocent deaths too." The problem with this argument is, firstly, that Blair's hypocrisy on this and many other matters has been repeatedly highlighted, and, secondly, he was not standing at the time for the Irish presidency. Martin McGuinness was. It was Miriam O'Callaghan's job to probe the candidates' weak points. The IRA was McGuinness's, so that's what she asked him about.

"You would swear listening to these people that Martin McGuinness was the trigger that caused the Northern Troubles," Mary Lou now huffs and puffs on his behalf.

You really wouldn't. What you would swear is that McGuinness had made a significant contribution to violence which killed thousands of people, and could rightly be expected to answer for his actions. No one was blaming McGuinness for starting the Troubles, though republicans routinely hide behind the argument that this was a situation that was thrust upon them, not one which they sought out for themselves.

The situation was forced on everyone in Northern Ireland, and the vast majority of people managed to get through the Troubles without shooting, bombing or torturing a single other human being. That inconvenient truth cannot be repeated often enough.

Suggesting that some people are blaming republicans for the whole shooting match is a classic straw man argument, designed to detract attention from the actions of a particular group by pointing at something else entirely.

Unfortunately, Mary Lou wasn't done there.

She went on to point a finger at "these people", again without bothering to specify who they were, blasting "the cheek of them to say to McGuinness: 'Who are you from Derry to presume that you're Irish enough or that your citizenship is of sufficient standing that you should contest for the position of first citizen?' It was absolutely obnoxious." Indeed it would have been. Had it happened.

The good news is that it didn't, certainly not in the way the SF leader suggested. There may have been a few comments on social media, or tossed at McGuinness when he was out campaigning, but it was never a notable feature of the campaign. The objection to McGuinness was not that he was born outside the 26 counties, but that he was a leader of a terrorist organisation which had killed, not only innocent civilians, but also members of the security services of the country of which, as president, he would be head. That has nothing to do with an objection to his place of birth.

Dana was also from Derry, although she was actually born in London. Austin Currie, Fine Gael's candidate to fight Mary Robinson in the 1990 presidential election, was a northerner too.

Neither of them ever faced the charge that they were outsiders who had no right to be president.

More to the point, northern Mary McAleese served two hugely successful terms as Irish president.

Perhaps Mary Lou has forgotten McAleese because she is detrimental to the crusade for victimhood.

Partition does have an abiding effect on a country, producing psychological as well as physical division, and there is a certain smugness in sections of southern opinion as to their innate superiority. As a northerner, it can definitely rankle. It cuts both ways, though.

There are plenty of people north of the border who look down their noses on the Republic either as a traitorous Free State or Papist-ridden hellhole. Implying that they are representative of the whole would be equally wrong.

That's not the reason why Martin McGuinness's candidacy was opposed so vigorously, but Mary Lou simply can't admit it, wedded as she is to her current project of being more of a Nordie than the Nordies themselves.

Mary Lou even went positively Trumpian as she tried to portray opposition to Martin McGuinness's presidential bid as a class struggle between "the establishment" and "the hungry streets of Derry".

Oh dear. You should never go full Trump. She'll be telling voters they need to "drain the swamp" next.

It's just more facts-free rewriting of history from SF, a party which was spewing out fake news before the term even existed.

Martin McGuinness was buried under a headstone boasting unambiguously that he was an IRA volunteer. That's how he wanted to be remembered. The past clearly mattered to him. Nice try, but Mary Lou McDonald, who was there at the unveiling, can't now pretend it doesn't matter .

Sunday Independent

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