Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: O'Neill's comments over Spotlight footage show quite breathtaking double standards

Footage of Martin McGuinness from Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History
Footage of Martin McGuinness from Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Had a New IRA leader been photographed on a Derry street showing guns to eight-year-olds, there would be justifiable outrage.

He would be lambasted as a Fagin-like character, cynically trying to mislead innocents and twist young minds.

All our political parties would unite in condemnation, with Sinn Fein accusing the dissidents of toxicity. They would say the Creggan's youth deserved better than such poison by those with a warped agenda.

We've seen teenagers involved in dissident riots, but it is primary school children here being shown the weapons of war. So what does Sinn Fein make of the footage?

"Martin was a champion of equality, justice and peace," said the party's vice-president Michelle O'Neill yesterday.

"He continues to inspire many nationally and internationally. A dear friend and inspirational leader. I remember Martin with utmost pride."

I wouldn't expect her to say anything different. And that's why O'Neill and her party are guilty of the most breathtaking double standards.

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If it's wrong today to show guns and bullets to eight-year-olds, it was wrong then too. It shouldn't matter which IRA did it.

For those who say 'It's all in the past', consider this. The paramilitary leader who sent out the gunman who shot dead Lyra McKee decides to pursue a purely political route and becomes Deputy First Minister a few decades on.

Would that be acceptable? If his political associates said he had previously been fighting for equality and justice in a city which offered its youth nothing poverty and unemployment, would we buy that?

There is a growing tendency to sugarcoat the past. The 'good old IRA' showed kids guns and used car bombs.

There is no moral differences in the Provisional IRA's 1993 Shankill bomb and the Real IRA's 1998 Omagh one. Martin McGuinness's words denouncing as "traitors to the island of Ireland" those who shot dead two British soldiers at Massereene in 2009 were widely welcomed. Yet doing that, while still justifying the Provo campaign, represented double standards.

McGuinness's IRA recruited 16-year-old Michael Meenan in Derry who was killed transporting a bomb in 1974. Dozens of other young Fianna members died, including 16-year-old John Dempsey in west Belfast in 1981. "Jesus, he's only a child," a mourner said on seeing him in his coffin.

Some commentators employ buzzwords like the "radicalisation" of youth by dissidents and imply that what is happening now is different to what happened in the past. It's complete claptrap. Next time you hear it, remember that photo of McGuinness showing guns to primary schoolboys.

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