Mary Lou McDonald and the forgotten people of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’

The title of this blog,  ‘Two Irelands Together’, was not chosen by accident. My core contention in writing this column is that for more than 400 years there have been two clashing politico-religious cultures on this island – Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist – and that for the past century these have been forced into the ‘narrow ground’ of Northern Ireland, with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

I hold that before Irish people can come together peacefully and harmoniously in the same political unit, there have to be mechanisms in place to allow them to come together in other ways – socially, culturally, economically. That wise man, the business leader Sir George Quigley (who died in 2013), observed that major constitutional change in Ireland “has to obtain legitimacy if it is not to prove destabilising and even impermanent. Achieving legitimacy in this context must surely start with the recognition that there are in this situation two mutually opposed ‘principles of legitimacy’ which are strongly held – one nationalist and one unionist – and that some common ground would have to be found on which the divergent aspirations are transcended in a general consensus. The Good Friday Agreement recognises this in its espousal of the principal of consent for constitutional change. It would be a delusion to suppose that change could be achieved through some simple majoritarian process rather than by negotiation.”1

There is precious little common ground at the moment. This came home to me last month when I read  Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald’s speech to the National Press Club in Canberra in Australia in the same week that I visited the victims organisation, the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), in Lisnaskea in Fermanagh.

McDonald is a powerful orator who clearly believes it is her destiny to become the woman who will unite Ireland. In Australia (as elsewhere) she made headlines by predicting that a Border Poll on Irish reunification would take place “in this decade.” Her reply to any question about the risk of renewed violence in the North in the event of an extremely narrow vote for unity in that poll – this time certainly led by loyalists – is always the same. “The war is over”, she says.

It is worth quoting her words in Canberra at more length. She was asked by a journalist how she would ensure that such a Border Poll did not reignite violence in Northern Ireland. “The process for reunification will be orderly. It will be peaceful, and it will be democratic. I will not give an inch on that, and really believe there is a strong onus on every political representative and leader to state that categorically. I will not even countenance the scenario you have painted. That cannot happen under any circumstances, and I say that as one of the effigies that was hanged on a bonfire. People decided for peace. The truth is – a big bonfire, a bus lit on the Falls Road – these are very limited phenomena. The war is over. We are moving to the future, and there is no appetite across wide society to return to armed actions and conflict. I cannot accept – I don’t think any democrat could accept – that some unspoken possibility of perhaps tensions somewhere would throw us off our democratic course.”2

When McDonald says “the war is over”, what she really means is that the guerrilla/terrorist war the Provisional IRA waged in Northern Ireland and Britain for nearly 30 years is not necessary any more because Sinn Fein are winning the struggle to move towards Irish unity very effectively now without violence. They are already the largest party in Northern Ireland and will certainly be the largest party in the Republic after the next election, in early 2025 at the latest. And they have reached this enviable position by playing down the drive for unity – their core ideology – in both jurisdictions, and focussing on the housing, health and cost-of-living issues that really concern ordinary people, and are so urgent now that we are in an inflationary spiral caused by the war in Ukraine and the resulting potentially catastrophic rises in the cost of oil, gas, wheat and other staples.

However her declaration that as leader of Sinn Fein (the party of the IRA) she will “not give an inch” on her determination that the process of reunification will be orderly and peaceful is extraordinarily arrogant and hypocritical.  Arrogant because order and peace in the North in the event of a very narrow vote for unity are not within her gift. Hypocritical because, in common with everyone in her party, support for the IRA’s 1970-1997 campaign of violence is a compulsory requirement for membership. When was the last time you heard anyone in Sinn Fein criticising the actions of the IRA? The answer is ‘never’. And the IRA Army Council is still there somewhere in the background, with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris confirming this as recently as 2020.

McDonald’s arrogance is there too in her fanatical belief – common to all republicans – that unity is inevitable, that there is no alternative.”We’ve built the peace [after 30 years of IRA murder and mayhem – AP], and we now look to the next phase: the reunification of Ireland. We are living in the end days of partition. The momentum behind Irish unity is unprecedented,” she said in Canberra. My understanding of the Good Friday Agreement was not that Irish unity would be the next step, but that the reconciliation of the warring communities in Northern Ireland would be the first step along a road that could possibly – but not inevitably – lead to unity.

Which brings me to the victims group in Fermanagh. At the back of a half-empty factory estate in Lisnaskea are the comfortless offices (a far cry from the splendour of the National Press Club in Canberra) of the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), overseen by an  impressive young man from south Armagh called Kenny Donaldson. Donaldson is adamant and even-handed in his insistence that republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces must all be held to account for past atrocities.

For the past 24 years his group has undertaken the difficult, unsung work of representing, counselling and providing services for those whose family members were killed by republican and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, the Republic, Britain and further afield during the Northern conflict. For obvious reasons, their work focuses in particular, although not exclusively, on civilians and members of the British and Northern Ireland security forces killed (murdered, they would say) by republican paramilitaries (‘terrorists’ they would call them in unionist South Fermanagh, which was one of the Provisional IRA’s most active ‘killing fields’).

As Sinn Fein strides towards gaining political power in Ireland and both recognition and respectability internationally, these are the forgotten people. There are literally thousands of people on SEFF’s books, most of them unknown to the uncaring world outside their families and friends. Who, for example, has heard of the five BBC engineers and building workers who died when they were blown up by a landmine on their way to repair a TV transmitter on Brougher Mountain on the Fermanagh-Tyrone border in February 1971?  Nobody has ever been prosecuted for this atrocity, although it was widely believed to be an IRA bomb meant for the security forces (the battery used as the device’s power source had been bought in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim). For the sad record, those who died were BBC engineers Malcom Henson from Lancashire and William Thomas from Carmarthen in south Wales; and local men George Beck, John Eakins and Harry Edgar, all from Kilkeel, County Down.

Who remembers the names of the 21 civilian victims of the November 1974 pub bombings  in Birmingham, admitted by a former senior IRA man in 2014 but never officially claimed by that organisation? In Ireland this terrible attack is largely remembered because six innocent Birmingham-based Irishmen served 16 years in jail for it before a lengthy campaign led to their convictions being quashed by the Court of Appeal “It is often said that the greatest act of injustice was experienced by the Birmingham Six, but surely the greater injustice was the decision taken by a terrorist organisation to mass murder innocents – and to this day continues to deny victims and survivors the truth of the events that unfolded on that fateful day which saw their loved ones massacred,” says SEFF in one of its publications.

Who remembers the 11 Royal Marine bandsmen who died in an IRA bomb at their barracks in Deal in Kent in September 1989? Or Maheshkumar Islania, an RAF corporal originally from India, and his six-month-old daughter Nivruti, who were shot dead by IRA gunmen in Wildenrath in Germany in the following month? Or the two Australian tourists – Stephen Melrose and Nick Spanos – who were killed in front of their wife and girlfriend in May 1990 by black-clad gunmen when they stopped for a meal in a Dutch town which was popular with off-duty British servicemen?  Or Tom Oliver, a County Louth farmer and father of seven, who was abducted and killed by the IRA in July 1991, his body dumped over the border in south Armagh?

All these people left behind stricken families and devastated lives. They are just a few examples of the thousands of people who are are obliterated from memory as Sinn Fein march onto their promised land of unlikely all-Ireland amity and harmony. There has not been a single prosecution of anyone involved in any of these IRA attacks. There has not been a scintilla of admission (with the singular exception of the Birmingham bombings man), let alone repentance, from those responsible. Nobody in this republic knows or cares about their victims. It is little wonder that Northern unionists ask if the lives of these forgotten people – and so many like them – are worth less than those who were killed by the British Army in Derry and Ballymurphy, whose cases have been the subject of constant and highly publicised international campaigns over half a century. 

The South East Fermanagh Foundation continues its unheralded work from its offices in Northern Ireland and Britain. One of its publications, Terrorism Knows no Borders, also features 56 people (out of an estimated total of 105) killed in the Republic by the UVF, the IRA and the INLA, including those who died in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Lord Mountbatten and his companions blown up on his boat in Mullaghmore in 1979, and other civilians, soldiers, prison officers and gardai. Another publication, Uniting Innocent Victims, includes victims of ETA attacks in the Basque country. Kenny Donaldson is currently in Rwanda on a study visit to learn how they have worked to bring people together in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in that country.

One of SEFF’s most moving projects is a travelling exhibition of quilts, remembering the individual people from all sides who were killed/murdered during the Northern ‘Troubles’. The project’s three key messages are: “1) violence was futile and totally unjustified; 2) those remembered were wholly innocent, and 3) the legacy of those represented will live on amongst those left behind.”

In its introductory brochure, the organisation says: “Memorial quilts allow us to tell the story of the ‘Troubles’ in a very human way, encouraging people viewing the patches to consider the individual being remembered and not simply the badge or affiliation they had with a particular organisation which for some made them a ‘legitimate target’ for assassination. These individuals’ lives had worth not only to their families but to their colleagues, friends and the wider community at large. Ordinary men, women and children from right across the community were treated as collateral damage during the ‘Troubles’, and this continued with the concessions granted [to] terrorism and its political annexes within the Belfast Agreement and subsequent agreements (both overt and covert). This continues to exist to this day due to the justice, truth and accountability deficit being borne by innocent victims/survivors of terrorism.”

This is a small voice for justice and truth that needs to be heard throughout this indifferent island. In this jurisdiction it is all but silent. And with Sinn Fein moving into government here in the near future, it will not only be silent, but officially silenced too.

1 The Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland, No.8, Spring 2013, p.27

This entry was posted in General, Irish reunification, Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Mary Lou McDonald and the forgotten people of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’

  1. I first read your second sentence as “My core contention in writing this column for more than 400 years ” – which certainly caught my attention as any opening lines should!

    My second impression was that while it condemned all violence equally, the focus was almost entirely on republican violence and not the state and loyalist violence which proceeded and in may ways triggered it. The IRA (I ran away) was quiescent when civil rights marchers were bludgeoned and killed and the entire N. Ireland state had been designed as an instrument of discrimination and repression. Indeed an underlying assumption of your piece is that any re-unification based simply on the terms of the GFA requirement for a majority vote will trigger widespread loyalist violence.

    But you are right, of course. While the GFA has enabled a formal cessation of hostilities at a paramilitary level, it has done little for reconciliation at a community level. What we have is a ceasefire and a truce, not a genuine or deep peace. While you mention the continued existence of an Army Council – with no evidence it has any influence on anything – the existence of numerous armed and active loyalist drug gangs and vigilantes doesn’t merit a mention. The lack of a truth recovery process – impeded by all sides, including the British government anxious to shield its forces from prosecution – has meant that the grieving process for those directly effected cannot end and reconciliation is almost impossible.

    But we must also remember that the entire history of this island has been riven by violence for many centuries – internecine, anti-colonial, sectarian, and civil war. Many have over-come those memories and gotten on with their lives, as they have in the rest of the EU. Some may cling on to those memories not only out of unresolved grief, but out of a desire to keep the flames of hatred, sectarianism and division burning. The “not an inch” and “what we have we hold” philosophies remain entrenched and the DUP’s actions in foisting the most extreme form of Brexit onto an unwilling populace is just the latest example of people trying to further divisions with no regard for the consequences.

    I am not here to defend Sinn Fein, but they and the DUP need each other to keep the fires of division burning and remain pre-eminent amongst their tribes. It s only when the imitative is taken away from them and taken up by more moderate parties looking to the future that any hope of reconciliation can be fulfilled. Unfortunately the retreat of England into extreme nationalism is producing a reaction on the Irish side into an unthinking nationalism. We needed the likes of Blair and Ahern to come to power again to create a GFA2 which avoids incentivising and institutionalising division and promoting a more genuine reconciliation on the ground. Unfortunately Brexit cut the ground beneath the feet of such moderates and nationalist willing to work within NI have now reverted to viewing a united Ireland as their only option. How can it be otherwise when the “equality of esteem” provisions of the GFA have been so wilfully abandoned by the UK government?

    Sadly, for unionists, the days of an internal settlement within N. Ireland are probably now past. Had they created a warm house for nationalists with a successful economy and polity we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Difficult and all as it will undoubtedly be, I can’t see the momentum for a united Ireland stopping now – despite Sinn Fein, rather than because of their relative political success. History tends to remember the winners while the losers are generally forgotten. It was ever thus, and N. Ireland will be no exception.

  2. dgunningdes says:

    Thanks as ever for the thoughful blog, Andy. I think we learned something of interest from the centenary, last week, of the death of Arthur Griffith. The occasionn of marked by various political figures who respect the legacy of Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin and the achievement of ‘Griffith’s Parliament’ during the year of transition that was 1922.
    The centenary went unremarked by representatives of the various ‘proclamationist’ iterations of Sinn Fein that emerged after Griffith’s time.

    While you write, with justification, of a ‘Catholic nationalist culture’, you are no doubt conscious that that’s a culture with two very distinct strands. Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein could readily accommodate George Quigley’s observed about that major constitutional change in Ireland having to “ obtain legitimacy if it is not to prove destabilising and even impermanent.” The ‘dual monarchy’ concept developed by Griffith was all about the consent of the governed – and he republished it after 1916.

    For those of the proclamationist worldview, the consent of the governed isn’t really relevant because the republic (utopian in all its features) has been proclaimed, thus ‘actually established’ so the opinion of the governed, the ‘res publica’ isn’t material.

    This is why, on the basis of linguistic analysis alone, it is ludicrous to describe proclamationists such as the insurgent Rory O’Connor in April 1922 as ‘republican’. He was out to vindicate the proclamation and if we think that means suppressing the res publica under a military dictatorship, then “we can take it that way if we want”.

    For thios who formed that firts government and frame its Constitution, legitimacy, or authority was literally “derived from the people”. It’s in Article 2 of the Constitution of the Tteaty-based state.

    For that state’s domestic opponents, the insurgents it had to face down, legitimacy or authority came from the proclamation of the republic -and by extension from the “dead generations”.
    That’s two fundamentally different ‘principles of legitimacy’ within Irish nationalism. In a way there’s two paralle states in Irish nationalism: the treaty-based state for whic Micjhale Collins gave his life, which is now iterated as the Republic of Ireland and the Proclamation-based state, for which Rory O’Connor, Liam Melows and many oters have lost their lives.

    And when, inexorably, we do have a prospective coalition government in Dublin involving at least one party that is proclamationist in its concept of legitimacy and another that is ‘ res publican’, it’ll take a good deal of devilling at detail to finesse the foundations into place.

    I dare say it’ll also take a good deal of effort to sell any sort of interim ‘slightly constitutional’ arrangement to intermnations bodies of whic the current, treaty-based Irish state is a member.


    I think using the term “the war in Ukraine” risks eliding or masking the reality the world is confronting there, which is the Putin regime’s invasion. If Ukraine gave up the defence of its sovreignty and democracy, the war would be over, but the problem would be much worse. Thus, I suggest, the term “the war in Ukraine” references only the symptom, so “the invasion of Ukraine” isn clearer.

    The atrocity in which Louis Mountbatten and others were murdered took place on 27 August 1979.

  3. p j brady says:

    Thanks for a great piece, Andy. You were clearly moved by your visit to the SEFF as I probably would have been too.
    Nevertheless, I feel that trying to resolve the atrocities of war and bringing justice to all victims is impossible and ultimately pointless. In trying to do so, the feelings of loss, outrage, frustration, hatred, unfairness, vengefulness, etc. etc. are constantly being rekindled in our minds. We continue to suffer just as, no doubt, the perpetrators hoped we would. I personally refuse to let perpetrators have this lingering effect on me.
    In other words, forgive and forget. Not easy I know. But Gordon Wilson showed the wider world it can be done. And speaking as someone whose grandfather was murdered by the IRA, I can confirm that my family dealt with such a horrendous event in this way to eventually bring us peace of mind.
    Otherwise, we just end up on a ceaseless roundabout of never-to-be resolved ill-feeling. Going nowhere. I call it the ‘whataboutery roundabout’.
    It’s time to jump of. And generate a positive mind-frame of open-heartedness like Gordon Wilson. Forming the prayer or strong aspiration that the hatred which causes atrocities may never arise again in the minds of people. At least, in this way, we can meet our own personal responsibility for generating a climate of peace and reconciliation.

  4. dgunningdes says:

    A further comment: The narrative that “for more than 400 years there have been two clashing politico-religious cultures on this island ” is customarily infused with the inference that one of the traditions was/is aggressive, the invader, the planter, while the posture of the other is defensive. The indigene , the native is the victim of the piece.

    If you look back to the Reformation, which really is ‘the root of all the trouble’, the inference become less sustainable. By 1517, the Cambro and Anglo Normans, co-religionists of the Gael, had become ‘more Irish that the Irish themselves’.

    By 1570, those brave pioneers of the Enlightenment and Reformation found themselves dramatically ‘othered’: theior beliefs had been defined in the Council of Trent as heresies and their most powerful political symbol branded a “pretender” and a “servant of crime”.

    The papal bull Regnans in Excelsis (“Ruling from On High”) represented it as God’s divine will that no person living in lands overseen by the English monarch was bound by any oath or allegiance involving her or her successors. Respect for the code of law overseen by the Reformation monarch risked excommunication from Rome and thus, for the believer, eternal damnation.
    Those loyal to the papacy ( an institution that had been profoundly corrupt for centuries) were placed under an onus to engage in sedition towards the monarchy, actively working towards its overthrow. That statute is stilll on the books.
    In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII issued a clarification , explaining that Catholics should obey the queen in civil matters, until such time as a suitable opportunity presented itself for her overthrow. But that clause seems ot have applied only in England. The memo was not circulated in Ireland, so to speak.
    In 1870, the tercentenary year of the bull, Isaac Butt convened the Irish Home Government, just as the Anglican Irish Church adapted to its new disestablished state. In Rome, the first Vatican Council declared the papacy infallible, adopting a text developed by Archbishop Paul Cullen in Dublin. More than a third of the bishops making up the Council were Irish born or of Irish descent, outnumbering even the Italians.

    In 1903, the burden of infallibility was place on the shoulders of Pius X. This was the last papal election to involve the Catholic Emporer of Austria, in this case Franz Joseph who, besides being Emperor of Austria was also King of Hungary. The new Pope railed against modernism, which he described “the synthesis of every heresy.”
    In Dublin, Arthur Griffith published his outline ‘Austro-Hungarian’ solution to Ireland’s constitutional impasse and convened a ‘National Council’ to advocate for the new ‘Sinn Féin’ policy. Simultaneously, Tim Healy and Gerald Fitzgibbon “sat upon the college lands” as recorded in Ulysses; they worked on a solution to a thorny knot left over from the time of ‘Regnans in Excelsis’ and the Desmond rebellions.
    In 1906 Griffith’s ‘United Irishman’ newspaper, with its echoes of the ‘multidenominational’ 1798 rebellion, became ‘Sinn Féin’.

    In 1907, Pius X, ‘the prisoner of the Vatican’ reignited some of the flames of the Council of Trent, the ‘Counter-Reformation Council’ of 1545-1563, issuing his extraordinary assault on the civil rights and marital privacy of persons of the reformed faith married to Roman Catholics, making intimate and visceral the clash of politico-religious cultures on this island. Three years later, the new UK government committed to making a third attempt to legislate for Irish national self determination.

  5. Frank Schnittger says:

    The argument Andy Pollak makes is about democratic legitimacy and that a 50%+1 vote is not enough to establish this. He is both right and wrong. The 50%+1 provision of the GFA is just the mechanism which triggers a transfer of sovereignty over NI from the UK to Ireland. It says nothing about what shape a united Ireland should take.

    He feels it is essential to establish some unionist buy in into a UI prior to a Border Poll. My view is that that is a fools errand because any unionist who engages with UI discussions prior to a border poll in a positive fashion ceases to be a unionist and will be disowned by his own side.

    My view is that we should honour the integrity of unionist beliefs and not disrespect them by pretending they can be persuaded to switch their allegiance to Ireland through symbolic changes to flags, anthems, Commonwealth membership, or bought off by promises of economic advantage.

    The focus of any pre-poll political strategy should be on trying to persuade the 20% of the middle ground of the electorate (Alliance/Greens/SDLP), for whom national identity is not the over-riding factor determining their vote. They are also more likely to be persuadable based on economic arguments and a constitutional structure which guarantees minority rights.

    However after a UI border poll, it is important to gain at least the grudging cooperation of the vast majority of the electorate, including as many unionists as possible. This can be done by continuing to respect their British identity, maintaining links with Britain as close as possible, avoiding triumphalism, and investing heavily in the infrastructure and economic development of NI.

    (The paragraph above applies exactly in reverse if there is a Pro-UK union majority in the poll, but do we seriously expect the current UK government and loyalists to abide by it? Once again nationalists/Irish government are expected – and expect – to abide by a higher standard than the UK government/loyalists).

    Democratic legitimacy is not something that can be achieved overnight or through high level negotiations. It is achieved over time by good faith adherence to agreements, treating people fairly and well, respecting their beliefs, encouraging their inclusion and participation, recognising their contributions, providing decent public services, and building a successful society, polity and economy.

    Ask me 10 years after a border poll whether Ireland has achieved that goal. Don’t expect it on day 1.

  6. dgunningdes says:

    And finally:

    By bringing the army council into the discussion, I presume ​Frank’s​ reference is to ‘the provos’ rather than to the iteration of the IRA that since December 1938 had seen itself as the legitimate government of the proclaimed republic, the organisation remembered today as ‘The Officials’.

    But here’s the point​: Frank says ” the continued existence of an Army Council . . .[ has no] . . . influence on anything.”

    This is absolutely wrong. ​(Sorry Frank!). ​ The Officials, the Provos, the Rira, the Cira and other organisation​s​ within that set all have this in common, that they see their mandate as emanating from t​h​e proclaimed republic of 1916 and all its attendant details: the dead generation​s​, the blo​o​d of the martyrs; those who took up arms agains​t​ the treaty-base state in 1922, the ‘S Plan’ Nazi collaborators of the late 1930, the Borde​r​ Campaign bombers of the 1950s and 60s; the founders of the Provisional IRA and Provisinal Sinn Féin in September 1969/January 1970​; those who took the anti-treaty side in the Dáil debates and insurgency of 1922​ and​, ​ver​y​ significantly​, the hunger strike​r​s of 1981.

    The Provisional IRA army council or overarching council, or whatever form it takes now, doesn’t have to do anything to represent and embody a​l​l that, it simply has to be.​ In Roman Catholic theology, the word is to ‘subsist’, a word that has a bouquet of transubstantiation about it. ​

    ​The council’s very existence​, in whatever form it takes now, ​ stands in contradiction to the idea that ​legitimacy attended ​the Dail Éireann vote of January 1922 to establish a treaty-based state. It’s very existence stands in contradiction to the idea that the ​G​eneral Election result of June 1922 was legitimate​ and generative​.

    ​I​indeed, Eamon de Valera, during his ‘slightly constititional’ transitionary phase, inferred in a Dail speecch that he considered the General Election result of June 1922 a “coup d’état”.

    The very existence of an army council – presuming the ​G​arda Commissioner is righ​t​ and it does still exist – suports that view: that the people had no right to “disestsblish” ( to use Liam Mellow’s word) the proclaimed republic​, no matter if that was the preference of 78% of them, on the basis of the June 1922 General Election. ​

    Finally, the very existence of an army council, drawing its mandate as the government of ‘the enthroned republic’ ( to take a phrase from the Decem​b​er 1938 ‘handover​ of authority’ to it from Cumann na Teachtaí​​) stands as a contradiction of the claim in the first Consitution of the treaty-based state (October 1922) that ” All powers of government and all authority, legislative, executive, and judicial, in Ireland are derived from the people of Ireland . . .”

    ​I​t was this very provision​ in “Article 2 of ’22” ​ that empowered the electorate of the treaty-based state adopt by plebiscite a new “autochthonous” Constitution in 1937, thus reiterating itself as “Eire”

    “Éire” later reiterated itself as the Republic of Ireland, but it’s still the treaty-based state, evolving constitutionally.

    But ‘constitutional evolution’ is something the electorate has no right to flirt with in proclamationist or ‘republican legitimism’ theory, a doctrine in which it is not for the ‘publica’ to determine what is ‘in res publica’, that matter haveing been determined (clandestinely) by those martyrs who have joined themselves to the dead generations.


    ​It can be argue​d​ that “state and loyalist violence” in the territory and state of ​N​orthern Ireland owes some of its historic ‘triggering’ to the zealous and uncompromising Counter​-Rreformation, a movement of the mid sixteenth century, which was renewed​ by Pope Pius X ( now Saint Pius X) ​ at the beginning of the 20th. The papal bulls ‘Regnans in Excelsis, ‘Pastor in Aeternis’ and ‘Ne Temere’ refer in particular.

    I don’t think the Provisinal IRA existed at the time of ‘the Burntullet Bridge incident’ and by then the Officia​l​ IRA was within a few years of being wound up.

  7. @dgunningdes

    I think you miss my point. It was Andy who brought the Army Council into the discussion and did so without providing any evidence they controlled Sinn Fein. He omitted any reference to the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) with representatives from the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando. which was launched on 13 October 2015 – ie, long after the GFA – and which has been very active in coordinating the activities of drug gangs, street protests, and bus burnings etc. and recently declared Dublin Ministers weren’t welcome in the North. Notably the DUP pivoted from their initial support of the Protocol (as providing the best of both worlds) following opposition from the LCC.

    Personally I’m not very interest in the activities of 7 very old men even if they do meet for the occasional funeral. All parties tend to have central executive councils to run their internal affairs which are often made up of party activists rather than elected representatives. Unless you are an active party member you would hardly know of their existence. I am far more interested in the policies Sinn Fein are promulgating and the quality of their candidate selection. There have been disturbing allegations of bullying within the party ranks and a number of public representatives have left. I have never seen any allegation the “Army Council” were behind this or any specific policy proposals.

    On the contrary, as someone who doesn’t support Sinn Fein, I am nevertheless impressed by by the degree to which they have been able to reinvent themselves since the 1990s. They have been able to transform themselves from a hard right, socially conservative, proto-Fascist, anti-EU, hard-line nationalist party into a relatively moderate, social democrat, relatively liberal, pro-EU party with some very articulate spokespeople to boot. To be sure they still have a few dinosaurs who haven’t got the memo about being conciliatory, etc. and my local Sinn Fein Councillor (who has since left SF) tried to bully me when I was Chair of the local Community Council leading a campaign against illegal quarrying and dumping by Roadstone/CRH at Glending near Blessington.

    However my main concern, in this context, is that Andy might inadvertently give the impression of one-sidedness in his empathy for victims and condemnation of violence, and was couching some of his proposals for the unification of Ireland in terms of appeasing or mitigating the threat of potential loyalist violence. Knowing Andy, I know that was not his intent, but that is how his remarks were being interpreted on Slugger O’Toole in response to his recent posts there. People can be incredibly sensitive to “their” side being tarnished with a violence brush when they see far more recent and active violent activity and threats being ignored if it comes from the other side. I think we should give Sinn Fein some credit for largely leaving violence behind them over the past 25 years, facing down some dissident threats from their own side, and doing so far more completely than loyalist paramilitaries. YMMV.

  8. dgunningdes says:

    Frank, I take your points entirely, but what a distinguished commentator/observer like Andy Pollak believes, or an ordinary citizen like myself: that’s one thing. It’s a different order of magnitude, I suggest when the state’s most senior policing officer puts an opinion into the public domain.

    From my general reading, I am aware of that a December 1938 issue of the Wolfe Tone Weekly carried a statement from ‘The Executive Council of the Second Dáil’ with an introductory paragraph written by Seán Russell, This announced that on 8 December 1938, the Executive Council had transferred its authority as Government of the 1916 Proclaimed Republic to the IRA Army Council. The statement was published in both Irish and English and appeared with the headline “IRA take over the Government of the Republic”. It seems to me that the proclaimed republic of 1916 is a discrete and quite differently constituted entity from the current iteration of the treaty-based state as The Republic of Ireland [1949].
    I can readily find, in Article 2 of the 1922 Constitution, from whence political authority in the treaty-based state: “All powers of government and all authority, legislative, executive, and judicial, in Ireland are derived from the people of Ireland, . . .”
    So, I’m intersted in the alternative model or paradigm, in the derivation of ‘proclamationist’ authority and as a voter, I’d prefer to wknow whether its still considered by some players in the democratic space to be extant and operative.

  9. frank Schnittger says:

    Would you have the same problem if the “army council” renamed itself as the general purposes committee? All parties have such committees and their remit and composition is generally considered an internal matter for the members to decide.

    Commenters on Slugger were particularly incensed by Andy’s assertion that support for the IRA’s campaign of violence was a mandatory requirement for Sinn Fein membership claiming that that was a complete figment of his imagination.

    In sometimes it seems to me that opponents of Sinn Fein are those most opposed to its ongoing transformation into “normal” political party and keep trying to make it revert to a past it is keen to leave behind.

    I have just written a 2000 word blog inspired by Monica O’Neill’s recent remarks which I will link to here if I decide to publish, but it’s central theme is that’s it’s time Sinn Fein admitted the war was a strategic as well as moral mistake. I think it might get an interesting response on slugger!

  10. I have tended not to read Anne Harris because of her, and her then husband, Eoghan Harris’ vilification of John Hume and the peace process, something for which, to my knowledge, they have never apologised. But I saw her column and think it was well argued.

    I would not vote for Sinn Fein in part because of the lack of transparency she describes. It may be relatively inconsequential for a private business or a marginal party to conduct its affairs primarily in the party back-rooms, but it is not a culture I want to see imported into government.

    It has been difficult enough to increase accountability in public office in this country, and we still have a way to go, as the controversy over Robert Troy’s non-disclosure of much of his extensive property portfolio indicates.

    However the constant harking back to IRA/SF and the Army Council as if it was still a paramilitary organisation is, I think, overdone. After 25 years of relative peace, during which time the leadership faced down dissident elements in their ranks, I think we should give them credit for having travelled a long road towards becoming a relatively normal political party in a democracy, especially when compared to the still very active LCC groupings.

    The irony is that while SF are now trying to operate the agreed political structures within the UK, it is the DUP which is doing the most to destroy them.

    I have published my blog “The IRA war was a failure” here:

    I’m still thinking about how to improve it before submitting it to Slugger. Your feedback would be welcome, either here or on the European Tribune. Registration there is easy.

    • dgunningdes says:

      Frank, I too was was affected at a distance by Bloody Sunday. So I’m interested to see that Bloody Sunday is being commemorated by Dublin City Council in the way of a bridge being re-named. This will be a place, I suggest, where one might contemplate who it was fired the first shot on that day.

      Speaking of actions and reactions, I look at Dublin Castle and I see a place, like a Templar citadel in the Levant, that was once an outpost, a frontier of the Reformation and Enlightenment. Between 1870 and 1922, Dublin Castle lost that status and its sacred icons, so to speak, were transferred to Stormont which ‘commands’ a smaller territory.

      Whatever about the politics, I do regret seeing the Enlightenment retreat.

  11. Surely the issue of who fired the first shot on Bloody Sunday is a matter of historical record, and not something to be contemplated on a bridge in Dublin?

    And I am not sure many Irish people will accept your conflation of British rule from Dublin Castle with the Reformation and Enlightenment! Nor that Stormont rule was an exemplar of either.

    Indeed it was Irish revolutionaries who were more often influenced by the French revolution and the enlightenment.

    And if any country is currently holding the torch of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, surely it is post Catholic Ireland and not post Brexit Britain?

    But thanks for the conversation. We have strayed rather far from Andy’s post!


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