Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O’Hanlon: Time For Truth? Time For Half-Truths more like

Sinn Fein knows lauding dead IRA terrorists while demanding justice for victims of state and loyalist violence is rank hypocrisy; it just doesn’t care. And it’s nauseating, says Eilis O’Hanlon.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill at the Time for Truth March in Belfast
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill at the Time for Truth March in Belfast
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill at the commemoration for IRA man Peadar McElvanna on the 40th anniversary of his death

By Eilis O’Hanlon

Superman had nothing on Michelle O’Neill. Mild-mannered Clark Kent used to nip into telephone boxes and quickly change outfits before re-emerging as the Man of Steel.

The Sinn Fein vice-president doesn’t even bother pretending that she’s transformed into a different person.

One minute, she’s at the Time For Truth march in Belfast, claiming to stand up for victims of violence. The next, brazen as anything, she heads down country to appear at another commemoration for a dead IRA terrorist, dressed in the same shirt, same trousers, same white shoes with bows, spouting the same old rot.

This time it was for Peadar McElvanna, who died in a botched ambush on an Army patrol in June 1979. According to Lost Lives, he was the 2,115th person to die as a result of the Troubles.

Hundreds of people gathered in Keady in Co Armagh on Sunday, the 40th anniversary of his death, to hear O’Neill bang on again about how there now exists — yawn — a fresh “opportunity to end partition”.

Trying to persuade Sinn Fein supporters that this Jekyll and Hyde act, which the party regularly performs, is not just unconvincing, but deeply insulting to victims, is a total waste of time. They know it’s rank hypocrisy. They just don’t care.

It’s still breathtaking to witness such a blatant lack of either joined-up thinking, or decency. Last week, Michelle O’Neill was on Radio Ulster’s Talkback, discussing how she wanted to join unionists in a big group hug, while erstwhile party leader Gerry Adams was writing on his personal blog of how a new, inclusive approach was needed to get consent for Irish unity, instead of just winning a border poll and hoping for the best.

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Sinn Fein pockets all the praise for these gestures and then immediately undoes all the good work by lauding past IRA actions, which were savage in intent and outcome.

Speaking at Sunday’s commemoration, O’Neill actually said she wanted to “build a new united Ireland for everyone” and that “this is what Peadar McElvanna was committed to achieving”.

The idea that the IRA was fighting for some touchy-feely ideal of cross-community inclusivity in 1979 is absurd.

When he joined the organisation, McElvanna would have been bound by the rules of the so-called ‘Green Book’, which declared that the IRA army council was the “legal and lawful government of the Irish Republic, which has the moral right to pass laws for, and to claim jurisdiction over ... all of its people regardless of creed or loyalty”.

The words ‘unionist’, or ‘unionism’, do not occur a single time in the Green Book. Nor do ‘Protestant’, ‘consensus’, ‘consent’, ‘dialogue’, ‘compromise’, ‘talks’, or ‘co-operation’.

There is no demand for civil, human, or equal, rights, only for a crushing military victory. The one other political party to get a mention is the SDLP, whose members are referred to as “the enemy of the people”. There’s even a discussion about the merits of tarring and feathering them.

Much has changed since then. Republicans are no longer committed, as they were in those days, to Ireland leaving what was then called the EEC.

That wouldn’t go down as well in the political circles in Dublin in which they now move. The hot air about socialism has been ditched for the same reason.

But, however much they might now distance themselves from the old revolutionary rhetoric, it’s a twisting of history to suggest in retrospect that Peadar McElvanna died to “build a new united Ireland for everyone”.

Hardline republicans might even be justified in considering it a slur on the memory of dead volunteers to suggest that they gave their lives for a power-sharing Assembly with knobs on.

If Michelle O’Neill really does believe that, then here is a question. Another member of McElvanna’s IRA unit that day in 1979 was Dessie O’Hare, the so-called ‘Border Fox’, who later joined the INLA and took part in any number of brutal terrorist operations, including the kidnapping and mutilation of a dentist, John O’Grady.

If McElvanna was acting that night in the name of some agreed Ireland, then O’Hare must have been doing the same. In which case, O’Neill will no doubt be happy to enlighten us as to what a fine Irish patriot O’Hare was, too, even though he admitted in court that his aim in taking up the gun was solely to attack the “unionist ruling classes in the Six Counties”.

The real nature of the IRA is not in these carefully selected set-pieces, which O’Neill legitimises with her presence, but in the multitude of other operations it was carrying out at the same time.

Six days after McElvanna died, a 69-year-old retired Catholic called Patrick O’Hanlon was murdered in Belfast by the IRA, apparently after twice reporting to the police that his car had been hijacked by the Provos.

Two days later, Sylvia Crowe, a 32-year-old Faith Mission worker, was killed in an IRA explosion while standing at a bus-stop.

There are no commemorations for them. Hundreds of people don’t march demanding that they be properly remembered. Their names will never pass Sinn Fein representatives’ lips.

The logic of Michelle O’Neill’s argument is plain: all the dead are equal, but some are more equal than others — and, right at the top of the pyramid of victims, are terrorists, who, alone among the dead, were exactly where they’d chosen to be, doing what they’d decided to do, at that moment.

To suggest that the dead are all equal is bad enough. To raise murderers above the murdered, as these commemorations do, is obscene.

Sinn Fein makes a calculation that there will be some temporary outrage each time they take part in these jamborees of death, but that it will soon pass and be forgotten, because, despite all the airy talk about the dignity of remembrance, their real aim is to promote a culture of forgetting.

That’s why there was no place at Sunday’s march in Belfast for victims of the IRA. It was only for those killed by the IRA’s enemies.

That’s also why there was no invitation extended to the families of the Disappeared.

They’re the ‘wrong’ sort of victims.

Republicans are entitled to toast dead terrorists in any way they see fit; but if DUP leader Arlene Foster was spending her weekends revelling in the murderous deeds of the UVF, then they would rightly treat any claim by her to be reaching out a hand of friendship to nationalists with disdain.

Sinn Fein should expect no less when they try to pull an equally fast one on unionists.

Time For Truth? As always, Time For Half-Truths would be much closer to the mark.

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