Sinn Féin refuses to face the 'appalling vista' of prolonged campaign of violence
The duplicity of Sinn Féin's responses to allegations of child sex abuse and kangaroo courts which, up to 2002 at least, carried the menace of a bullet in the head, has led many commentators to suggest that the party is unfit to enter government.
The Harvard philosopher Sissela Bok in her book, 'Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life', notes that violence and deceit are the two forms of intentional assault on human beings, and both have been integral to the Republican movement's 'modus operandi' for over 40 years. Both impinge on people's freedom, inducing or coercing them to act against their own best interests.
Violence, especially when it has the effect of terrorising a whole community, severely restricts freedom of speech and action. Lying is just as inimical to human freedom because they affect people's beliefs, such as the belief that Sinn Féin members have cooperated fully with police enquiries into sex abuse, that decades of terror were justifiable, or that Sinn Féin and the IRA are separate bodies.
While some philosophers argue that lying is never justifiable, most concede that, just as violence is permissible in self-defence, there are circumstances where deceit is justifiable. So the central question about fitness to govern is: in the circumstances that prevailed during all this period, were the degree and duration of Republican violence and associated culture of deception justifiable?
Injustices were experienced by Catholics at the time as constituted an existential threat and that young people in particular, as Martin McGuinness has often explained, were prompted to join the IRA to defend their communities.
What began as self-defence soon morphed into an offensive campaign with "the ballot box in one hand and the Armalite in the other". Terrible deeds were done in the name of this cause, deeds that violated even the rules of war. In answer to a TV host's question about the "depraved act of orphaning Jean McConville's 10 children", Gerry Adams chillingly explained "these things happen in war". Truth is the first casualty of war and so duplicity inevitably became indispensable for both wings of the Republican movement, military and political. Denial, obfuscation, misleading propaganda and all manner of deceits were employed, not only to protect members from detection and arrest but also to present murder and maiming as justifiable in pursuit of their cause.
The cast iron rule that governs membership of secret armies and their political apologists is 'thou shalt not inform'. Even after the war was over and the IRA had supposedly "gone away", the vicious, gratuitous murder of Robert McCartney did not elicit a scintilla of information from a bar full of Sinn Féin members. Similarly with the raid on the Northern Bank.
Sinn Féin has repeatedly sought a 'peace and reconciliation forum' to deal with the past, on the grounds that atrocities were committed by all sides in the conflict, including the forces of law and order. There is merit in this proposal because it is true, for example, that elements within the RUC and the British army colluded with Loyalist paramilitaries in murderous deeds.
It is one thing to establish a process to "bring closure "to cases of murder, maiming and torture but Sinn Féin's proposal that an all-Ireland body be set up to deal with cases of child sex abuse by Republicans is a pathetic ploy to deflect, delay and ultimately avoid having to break the iron rule of omerta. In particular, they would have to inform not just on the "friends" but also on the "comrades" whom Gerry Adams warmly greets on occasions like the Ard Fheis.
In the interests of securing peace, Republicans were granted, and the public largely accepted, wide-scale releases from prison, 'letters of comfort' and, as we learned recently, a "queen's pardon" for Gerry Kelly for acts of terror. It would now seem that they are angling for a get-out-of-jail card for using kangaroo courts to deal with sex abusers and for their collective cover-up of these crimes.
Sissela Bok uses the term "free riders" for those who demand truth and transparency from others, as Sinn Féin repeatedly did in regard to clerical abusers and the bishops, but who would like to reserve different standards to themselves because they are special in some way. The Republican campaign of violence went on for decades after it could be considered remotely justifiable. It was indefensible because there was an alternative strategy available, epitomised in the person of John Hume. It is to their credit that Adams and McGuinness eventually embraced the constitutional route, but thousands of innocent people died needlessly or were maimed for life as the violence and intimidation went on and on.
The campaign of deception also went on too long and has been sustained right up to the present day. This continuing deceit is not justifiable on grounds of self-defence, nor is the crude discrediting of elements of the stories of Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon which implicate revered figures in the Republican pantheon.
The problem for Sinn Féin, particularly its newer members, is that just like the British judicial system regarding the wrongful incarceration of the Birmingham Six, and the Catholic church regarding clerical child abuse, they seem unable to face the "appalling vista" that the edifice of an honourable and principled organisation committed to genuine republican values is deeply compromised by its refusal to acknowledge the injustice of its unnecessarily prolonged campaign of violence and its continuing incapacity to deal with troubling facts about historical child abuse among Republicans.