Sinn Fein’s death cult may attract new adherents, but it taints them as it did those they replace
Party will have image problem as long as it eulogises gunmen, insists Nelson McCausland
Last Saturday, there were huge crowds — estimated at 200,000 — in Portrush for the annual air show and, once again, the little village of Ballycarry in Co Antrim was filled with visitors who had come to enjoy the Broadisland Gathering.
Meanwhile, Irish republicans gathered in Belfast and Londonderry to mark the 75th anniversary of the death of IRA volunteer Tom Williams, who was executed on September 2, 1942, for the murder of Patrick Murphy, a Roman Catholic policeman from west Belfast.
The commemoration at Milltown Cemetery was chaired by Joe Austin, a senior member of Sinn Fein and chairman of the National Graves Association, and the speaker was Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann, who read a stridently republican speech.
The following day he posted the speech on his Facebook page and it provides a fascinating insight into the mind of Sinn Fein.
He said: “I was born 11 years after the execution of Tom Williams, but my earliest memories was the story of Tom Williams and his bravery as he walked to the gallows. I heard about the age-old struggle for Irish freedom ... and those who put their heads above the parapet to carry on the age-old war against British rule.”
Now, Fra McCann is a couple of years younger than I am, but my earliest memories — and I suspect those of many of that generation — are about the games we played with our friends, the toys we received as presents at Christmas, and family visits to the seaside.
They are happy memories of simple childhood pleasures in what was an age of austerity for everyone.
But Fra McCann’s “earliest memories” are of an IRA gunman who was executed for murder. One commentator has observed that many Irish republicans “imbibed their republicanism with their mother’s milk” and that comment from Fra McCann suggests that there is something in that assessment.
That’s why it is so troubling when we see senior Sinn Fein politicians handing out Bobby Sands medals to schoolchildren, or marching uniformed children up the Falls Road behind men with replica guns.
Are they seeking to radicalise another generation to keep the “age-old war” going?
Fra McCann also set the murder of Constable Murphy in the context of an IRA campaign and said: “In 1939, the British went to war and at that time Irish republicans held the age-old belief that England’s difficulties was Ireland’s opportunity. The IRA mobilised and young volunteers were trained in the use of arms and a new campaign began.”
McCann managed to set that context as “the British went to war”. There was no mention of the fact that Britain went to war with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
There was no mention of the fact that there were Ulstermen and Irishmen, Protestant and Roman Catholic, fighting in the ranks of the British Army against the evil of Nazism and there was no mention of the fact that the IRA was collaborating with the Nazis; but, then, that’s how Sinn Fein rewrites history and sanitises the IRA.
In fact, the IRA had made contact with the Nazis long before the start of the war and had launched a terrorist bombing campaign in England as early as January 1939 — long before the war started.
Indeed, five innocent people were killed and 70 injured when an IRA bicycle-bomb (a forerunner of the car bomb) was left in the centre of Coventry.
What happened last Saturday was simply another date in the annual calendar of IRA commemorations. It is part of what Sinn Fein as a political party do and, in so doing, it has a problem.
Yes, it may radicalise a new generation of young people, but it also taints a new generation of Sinn Fein politicians.
It seems that Gerry Adams is preparing to leave the centre of the stage and pave the way for others, such as Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, who have no personal IRA baggage.
But while Sinn Fein continues to “worship” at these IRA memorials and senior Sinn Fein politicians continue to eulogise the gunmen, those who move centre stage will be just as tainted and tarnished as those they replace.