Mairia Cahill: In fairness, when it came to killing, the IRA were always keen on equal opportunities
Eamon Delaney on how Sinn Fein may lose its feminist credentials for handling of Mairia Cahill case
Among the many strange aspects to the debate around Sinn Fein's handling of the Mairia Cahill case is that the party might be in danger of losing its 'feminist credentials.'
Many of us might feel the republican movement was more of a sinister, once-violent cult, which came into the democratic system on the back of a campaign of violence and criminality, and which is still parroting an ultra-nationalist philosophy. But the 'feminist' angle shows how Sinn Fein has created an ad-hoc legitimacy for itself.
Of course, in fairness, the IRA were always 'equal opportunity' assassins and had no problem killing women as well as men. Didn't they kill Joanne Mathers, a census collector in Londonderry, and Gordon Wilson's daughter Marie, a nurse who died in the Enniskillen bombing? And any number of other women - soldiers, policewomen, civilians, shoppers. How do the feminists feel about that?
Surely killing a woman is the ultimate act of anti-feminism. In the Droppin Well bombing of 1982, republicans killed five women, all civilians, at a function also attended by military personnel. They were on a night-out, an act of female freedom and empowerment surely, but a republican statement of responsibility dismissed them as 'consorts,' as in just 'companions' for men.
Women got in the way, during 'the war', and so did civilians. After the Droppin Well, the INLA's Dominic McGlinchey said the dead women should have known the venue was under threat. This was Dominic 'Mad Dog' McGlinchey who supplied the guns for a 'spray job' on a religious service in Darkley, Co Armagh, which killed three innocent worshippers and injured many more. But at McGlinchey's own funeral, the oration was given by Bernadette McAliskey (nee Devlin), who described McGlinchey as 'the finest republican of them all.'
She also condemned the media for associating McGlinchey with criminality (yes, seriously). They were 'curs and dogs', she said bitterly, who 'would rot in hell.'
This is interesting as McAliskey is, of course, one of the major republican feminist icons, except that the focus is not usually on this latter day Bernadette, ranting at Mad Dog's graveside and opposed to the current Northern Ireland peace settlement, but the earlier, swinging 60s figure, when the young mini-skirted MP was challenging the establishment'
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It was an image typified by a film only two years ago, by Lelia Doolan, a soft-focus portrait of the feisty Bernadette as some sort of Northern Jane Fonda. We rarely got the later era colour shots of bombing aftermaths and bloody body parts. The focus, instead, is on Bernadette as female 'mould breaker.'
It was the same with McAliskey's daughter, Roisin, who was alleged in 1996 to be part of an IRA team trying to kill British soldiers at European bases. The Germans wanted to extradite her from the UK, but the big issue for feminists was not that Roisin was suspected of having tried to kill people, but that she had become pregnant and was allegedly handcuffed during a medical examination.
Sneaking around Europe looking for British military to kill was probably the most cowardly IRA activity, and the most problematic - the IRA killed two Australian tourists in 1990 and in 1989 the German wife of a soldier. Undeterred, in the following month, the IRA killed a six-month-old girl - no age limit for killing females, it seems.
IRA overseas hit teams were often gender-balanced to give cover for their activities. Thus, another feminist icon, Mairead Farrell, in Gibraltar in 1988 as part of a three-person team.
Farrell gained martyr status after she was shot dead, probably unlawfully. But she was in Gibraltar to bomb a military band ceremony. To 'do an Enniskillen,' so to speak. That would be Enniskillen where Marie Wilson died, holding her father's hand saying, 'I love you very much.'
In 2008, without irony, Sinn Fein proposed a commemoration for Farrell at Stormont, to mark International Women's Day! Yet many mainstream feminists still go along with this twisted logic. For the rest of us, the real feminist legacy of the republican movement was that it killed women, and produced women who killed, in equal measure. And we haven't even mentioned Jean McConville.