Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: As long as Sinn Fein continues to celebrate 'armed struggle', there will be a gunman in Irish politics

 

The New IRA killer of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry’s Creggan estate on Thursday night
The New IRA killer of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry’s Creggan estate on Thursday night
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

Last Thursday, journalist Lyra McKee was murdered in the Creggan area of Londonderry by a republican gunman, a member of the faction known as the New IRA.

The murder took place in the midst of a riot, which was orchestrated to prevent PSNI searches for New IRA weaponry and in which republican youths pelted PSNI officers with petrol bombs and other missiles.

There was widespread revulsion over the murder and politicians from across the political spectrum condemned it. Indeed, Irish justice minister, Charlie Flanagan TD, went further and warned of "the dangerous radicalisation of young people".

He said: "What is very worrying is a trend across Northern Ireland - and we've seen it in Derry in particular - where there is something of a dangerous radicalisation of young people in Northern Ireland."

He was absolutely right in identifying a serious problem and he was right in saying that it is a problem across Northern Ireland, but when it came to identifying the causes of the problem he was very wide of the mark.

Flanagan said: "That, to my mind, is a direct result of what is a political vacuum, having regard to the fact that it's over two years now since we had institutions of government in Northern Ireland."

Well, if that is how he sees it, he has very little understanding of northern republicanism.

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Dissident republicans rely heavily on radicalising and recruiting young people. However, radicalising and recruiting did not start with the collapse of Stormont in 2017 and so cannot be explained as being "a direct result" of the absence of devolution.

The radicalising of young nationalists is not new and has been a feature of republicanism for many generations.

Kevin Barry was initiated into the IRA at the age of 15 and he was 18 when he was arrested in 1920 for the murder of a British soldier who was younger than himself.

A generation later, Tom Williams was only 17 when he joined the IRA and he was 18 when he was arrested for the murder of a Catholic policeman.

So, when republicans sing a sentimental song about Kevin Barry as "a lad of 18 summers" and when they honour "brave Tom Williams", they are holding up teenage gunmen as role models for another generation of young nationalists.

More recently, from the early-1970s, the Provisional IRA provided arms training to members of Fianna Eireann, the junior wing of the IRA.

David McAuley, from Ardoyne, was just 14 when he was killed in 1972 as a result of an accidental shooting at a Provisional IRA training camp in the Republic.

Indeed, some years later, Sinn Fein councillor Conor Maskey delivered a tribute to David McAuley, saying that he engaged in "armed struggle" and "died as a result of an accident with a weapon".

The "dangerous radicalisation of young people" which Charlie Flanagan spoke about is nothing new and, sadly, the lessons of the past have not been learned.

Today, dissident republican organisations such as Saoradh continue to radicalise a new generation of young people in order to recruit them. Indeed, there are some parallels with jihadist grooming of young Muslims.

But they are not alone. Sinn Fein continues to radicalise a new generation of young people, believing that it will help to build their party.

They are seeking to radicalise and mobilise young people to become party activists, but at the same time they further polarise society.

Moreover, while Sinn Fein continue to glorify the "dead IRA volunteers", they are also creating an enabling environment for the dissident godfathers who want to recruit people into the ranks of the gunmen and the bombers.

While Sinn Fein persist in honouring the Provisional IRA, while Sinn Fein politicians think it right to name a children's playground after an IRA gunman, while a new Sinn Fein president takes over the role with a shout of "Up the rebels", while republicans continue to feed young people a perversion of history and a diet of hate rather than hope, then some young people in each new generation will take up the gun.

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