In a major interview in the Sunday Independent, Mary Lou McDonald, the president of Sinn Fein, made clear her fundamental belief that the use of violence by the Provisional IRA during the Troubles was a legitimate political strategy.
Without any qualification, she candidly justified the IRA’s armed campaign from 1970 to 1994, which claimed 1,781 lives and many thousands of others injured, or lives broken, never mind the massive destruction of property, businesses and jobs lost.
She audaciously said: “I wish it hadn’t happened, but it was a justified campaign.”
Impossible though it may be, if we leave aside the very obvious huge human cost in death and suffering inflicted upon us all by the use of violence to achieve a united Ireland, there was no recognition by Mary Lou McDonald of the collateral political damage caused by the Provo campaign of violence in Ireland, north and south.
She is not alone among her colleagues in Sinn Fein in ignoring the extraordinary negative political fallout against Irish unity caused by the Provos.
Even the most myopic Sinn Feiner must recognise that the Provo campaign was in every respect a failure.
Without doubt, it was a military failure; the campaign being brought to a standstill by the British Army.
By the 1990s, the IRA was so infiltrated by intelligence agents that its paramilitary actions were, for the most part, made ineffective.
It was also a personal failure for many hundreds of misguided young and impressionable IRA “volunteers”, who spent thousands of wasted years in prison.
Only a small elite of ex-IRA men currently enjoy the perks of being associated with the movement.
But it is its monumental political failure that should concentrate the mind.
Given that its strategic aim was to achieve a united Ireland, then it spectacularly and miserably failed to achieve any serious progress in that direction.
In fact, it had the opposite effect, as it put unionist people off the whole idea of unity.
It actually strengthened the resolve of unionists to not agree to, nor participate in, any debate about a united Ireland. The Provisional IRA’s actions were counter-productive in the extreme.
None of this is recognised by Mary Lou, who remains blind to the stark reality of contemporary Northern Ireland, which is more divided today on the constitutional issue than in 1970, when the IRA’s futile paramilitary initiative started.
The false narrative, which Mary Lou and other senior members articulate, is facile, anti-historical and propagandist.
The basic narrative is that, given the discrimination and the injustices against the nationalist minority by the unionist state, a violent response was inevitable.
Mary Lou asserted: “It was utterly inevitable and anybody with a passing sense of Irish history could have predicted it as surely as night followed day.”
Well, it wasn’t inevitable for Austin Currie, when he initiated the civil rights campaign by squatting in a council house in Caledon.
Nor was it inevitable for the Derry socialist Eamonn McCann, when he agitated for decent housing for the people of Derry. Nor was it inevitable for John Hume, Ivan Cooper and many other civil rights campaigners, when they marched for civil rights in Derry and elsewhere and achieved enormous political reforms in a few short months through peaceful agitation.
Frankly, there is no inevitability in history, as history is a record of related events, retrospectively sewn together to give us some understanding of the past.
That peaceful civil rights campaign, which succeeded beyond imagining without one shot being fired, created the potential for the creation of a new political framework based on equality and justice.
That reformed framework could have created new, democratic, non-sectarian politics in the north. That it didn’t happen was due, in no small part, to the outbreak of the IRA campaign that was partly designed to subvert the civil rights movement.
Rogelio Alonso, the Spanish academic who wrote The IRA and the Armed Struggle, searchingly posed this apposite question: “What place will be occupied in history by those who, with immense civic and human virtue, have resisted using violence, in spite of having the same grievances as those who resorted to terror?”
This is a question that should be asked whenever Sinn Fein attempt to mislead young voters into believing the bogus myth that the use of political violence to counter injustice was legitimate whenever there were effective peaceful alternative methods available.
Mary Lou should heed the wise words of John Hume: “Spill our sweat, not our blood.”