Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Dead IRA terrorists are not fitting role models for young

People at the National Hunger Strike Commemoration in Derrylin
People at the National Hunger Strike Commemoration in Derrylin

Derrylin is a small village in south Fermanagh, between Upper Lough Erne and the border with the Irish Republic. Normally it is a fairly quiet village, but last Sunday thousands of republicans descended on Derrylin for the 2014 National Hunger Strike Commemoration.

Of course, the hunger strikers were in prison because of the crimes they had committed and so this was not merely a commemoration of the hunger strikers; it was a celebration of the crimes that put them in prison in the first place.

If we take as an example Thomas McElwee, the ninth hunger striker to die. He was convicted of possessing explosives and killing a young married woman in a fire-bomb attack on a shop in Ballymena.

Thomas McElwee left her three children without a mother. That is the sort of activity that Sinn Fein members and supporters celebrated in Derrylin last Sunday.

When I thought about that, four questions came to mind:

(1) As the newspapers, radio and television reported on the event in Derrylin, what did this event do to innocent victims?

On September 21, 1972, IRA terrorists murdered Thomas Bullock, a 53-year-old farmer, and his wife, Emily, in their home at Aghalane near Derrylin. They were the first people in the area to be killed in the Troubles.

A niece of the two victims has described the Sinn Fein commemoration as "utterly despicable" and has accused republicans of "goading" victims.

Ann Travers, who lost her sister, Mary, in an IRA gun-attack, said, "Sinn Fein have no concept of the stress and re-trauma caused" to victims of IRA terrorism.

(2) Is it right for Sinn Fein to set up the hunger strikers as role models and icons, especially for young people?

Last week, Gerry Adams unveiled a new bust of Bobby Sands, which was commissioned by the Bobby Sands Trust.

There are also Bobby Sands Scholarships for the Irish language and recently Martin McGuinness handed out Irish language certificates with Bobby Sands's picture on them to children in a secondary school in Belfast. Feile an Phobail even has a Bobby Sands memorial football competition for young people.

Sinn Fein are trying to recreate him as a poet, author, liberator and philosopher. But the fact is that Sands was an IRA terrorist who was guilty of terrorist crimes.

Is a terrorist the right sort of person to set up as a role model for children?

(3) Do these annual commemorations and, indeed, other similar republican commemorations, not help dissident republicans to justify their current terrorism actions?

I welcome the fact that Sinn Fein now condemn acts of terrorism. That is a good thing and it shows that some progress has been made, but there is still more progress to be made.

By continuing to glorify those who carried out acts of terrorism in the recent past, while condemning those who carry out acts of terrorism today, Sinn Fein are being inconsistent – something that the dissidents point out.

Sinn Fein have yet to acknowledge that it was wrong to kill policemen, prison officers and civilians in the past, just as it is wrong to do it today.

(4) What did the hunger strikers die for? Why did they starve themselves to death?

Did they really die so that Martin McGuinness could put on his white tie and tails and dine with Her Majesty the Queen in Windsor Castle? Did they really die so that Sinn Fein leaders could toast the Queen at a banquet?

Did they really die so that Sinn Fein ministers at Stormont could have the privilege of sending any legislation they take through the Assembly across to London to receive the Royal Assent?

The sacrifice of their own lives and the terrible slaughter they wrought on so many others have not gained them their goal of a united Ireland and a socialist republic.

Today it is further away than ever.

Nelson McCausland MLA is Minister for Social Development

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