Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O'Hanlon: Why unionists who flirt with the fantasy of Corbyn in Downing Street should be careful what they wish for

A Labour victory would be as close as Lyra McKee's killers will ever come to having a sympathiser of their twisted view of Irish history in Number 10, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

The display on the window at Junior McDaid House in Londonderry
The display on the window at Junior McDaid House in Londonderry
Eilis O'Hanlon

By Eilis O'Hanlon

After every terrorist atrocity, those who are left behind seek comfort in the thought that at least the victims will never be forgotten. The terrible attack at London Bridge is no different.

Sadly, it's not true. Victims are often the first to be forgotten. The eight people who died in the previous terrorist outrage on London Bridge in 2017 are not even named on the Wikipedia page dedicated to the incident; the three Islamic State members who carried out the killings each have detailed biographies.

Lyra McKee is different. The fact that she was known before her death as a campaigning journalist and advocate for gay rights will ensure that the young Belfast woman's name is remembered for years to come. Her friends and family can take small consolation from that.

It's still telling that those who are politically aligned with the masked cowards of the New IRA who took her life that night in April when opening fire on the police in Derry's Creggan feel shameless enough to be celebrating violence fewer than nine months later by depicting Father Christmas carrying a rifle in the window of the party's HQ in the city, together with a sinister ditty warning that "Santa Claus is coming to town".

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

Such images are nothing new. Two years ago, in the same office, there was a picture of a snowman holding a rocket launcher with the slogan "Wishing you an explosive Christmas". The Provos, in their day, sold Christmas cards with similar cartoons of Santa carrying sackfuls of weapons.

Nothing is out of bounds to a fanatic heart. Sinn Fein's online shop continues to make money by flogging tacky IRA memorabilia. It's difficult to argue that the dissidents are any more insensitive than mainstream republicans, whose lead they follow.

What's alarming is that Saoradh clearly had no fear that the sick display would cost them significant support in the local community.

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Lyra McKee herself was only mentioned once during Saroadh's ard fheis in Newry last month, when the party's vice-chairperson, Mandy Duffy, condemned the way her death had been "swiftly and cynically used against Irish republicans".

Now comes this display of unrepentant triumphalism, smack bang in the middle of the most bitter sectarian election in years, with ballot papers in some constituencies effectively reduced to a choice between Us and Themmuns.

Derry is the place where the Troubles began and plenty of people there still seem to be hoping that it's where the next phase of the so-called "armed struggle" can start again.

Another delegate at the ard fheis admitted that dissidents had lost some support after Lyra McKee's death, but insisted they were "still able to grow" in the months since. New branches have opened in south Derry, north Antrim and Scotland, as well as a new office in Newry.

Meanwhile, in a couple of weeks' time, Jeremy Corbyn could, conceivably, be Prime Minister. The polls are narrowing as the election date approaches.

Another hung parliament, in which Labour - even if it does have fewer seats than the Tories - is able to form a coalition government together with the SNP and Liberal Democrats, is not impossible.

Lyra McKee
Lyra McKee

If that happens, Downing Street will be home to a man who, while insisting that he opposes "all bombing", previously invited convicted IRA members to the House of Commons two weeks after the Brighton bombing.

After eight IRA members died in the 1987 Loughgall ambush, Corbyn even attended a ceremony for the dead and said he was "happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland".

That's as close as Saoradh will surely ever come to having someone sympathetic to their twisted view of Irish history as PM.

Unionists who are flirting with the idea of Corbyn in Downing Street as a way of punishing Boris Johnson for his Brexit deal should be careful what they wish for.

New UUP leader Steve Aiken is the latest to go down that route, revealing yesterday that he hopes Boris is not returned as Prime Minister.

As a former submariner, one might expect Aiken to be more wary of the hidden dangers to the Union that would lurk under the waters of a Corbyn premiership - regular border polls not least.

As for Corbyn's untrustworthiness on national security and law and order, it's extraordinary that an Ulster Unionist leader who places high store on both could be so blase about both briefs being placed in the hands of a hard-Left government.

Bizarrely, the DUP is also in the position of needing Corbyn to do better than expected on December 12. Only by Labour clinging on to seats in traditional working-class areas in the English north and midlands can the DUP hope to hold the balance of power, thereby forcing a minority Tory government to change the terms of its Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.

There are a myriad of ways in which wishing disaster on Boris could backfire on unionists; but it highlights the strange situation that Northern Ireland is in politically right now.

There's still no Assembly. Talks are due to begin on the Monday after the election. Echoing Johnson's rhetoric about Brexit being "oven-ready", the Secretary of State promises there is a "deal ready to go" and only a small number of issues left to be finalised.

That's true. But they're the issues which have so far proved impossible to resolve. And for very good reasons.

The DUP is offering some concessions, but there's no guarantee talks won't fall apart again. If they prove fruitless by the middle of January, there will be fresh Assembly elections and who knows what toxic atmosphere they'll be held in.

Steve Aiken
Steve Aiken

If Boris does get a working majority to steer his Brexit deal through Parliament, then such an election will take place against an unpredictable backdrop of unionist anger, with talk of betrayal poisoning the air in a community which is already dangerously discontented.

Dozens of loyalists, accompanied by flute bands, marched to the City Hall on Saturday to mark the seventh anniversary of the flags protest, which disrupted ordinary life for months. Such feelings are easily whipped up by hotheads.

That's exactly what the dissidents want, too. Hardline loyalists and republicans are both seeking to exploit disaffected youth in deprived areas, who feel that the benefits of peace have not trickled down to them. In uniting their enemies in condemnation against them, this latest row over the rifle-toting Santa suits dissidents in Derry by drawing attention to their message of defiance, making them seem like rebels, rather than the bedfellows of murderous losers.

It's basic propaganda for the guilty to depict themselves as the victimised, but it works, creating a fog of diversion in which the memory of real victims, such as Lyra McKee, is lost.

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