| 9.9°C Belfast

Callous comments show how Sinn Fein still exists in its own moral universe

Tom Oliver

It looked like they'd dropped concrete blocks on every bone in his body." Those were the words of a local priest who attended Tom Oliver's grisly post-mortem in June 1991.

The Co Louth dairy farmer and father of seven had been systematically tortured by IRA butchers before being finished off by six shots to the back of his head.

What sort of person would not want the thugs responsible put behind bars? Well, Gerry Adams for one. Speaking on his local radio station LMFM last Thursday, the Sinn Fein president claimed that convicting Tom Oliver's killers would be "totally and utterly counterproductive" and do nothing to help "the wider process that all of us are engaged in".

Like so much of what Adams says, this needs to be translated into plain English. His comment could easily be interpreted as a veiled threat, warning that the IRA might take up arms again if the gardai go after any old comrade with blood on their hands.

Even more chillingly, it suggests that he believes the Provos should be left alone because they have been the legitimate army of the Irish state all along.

Of course, this is by no means the first time that Adams has stood by a terrorist organisation.

He insists he never actually joined (which for most of us would be like Roy Keane claiming he never pulled on a Manchester United jersey). Today, however, it comes in a whole new political context. Sinn Fein have their sights set on entering government in the Republic - which only makes the party's ambivalence about violence and determination to protect common criminals even more disturbing.

During last year's Irish election campaign, Adams declared that Sinn Fein would only share power as part of an exclusively left-wing coalition.

Over the last few weeks, however, he and his frontbench TDs have been dropping hints about a potential U-turn. It is now widely expected that at the party's next Ard Fheis, they will signal their willingness to be junior partners under Fine Gael or Fianna Fail - a move which has the potential to really shake up the Republic's electoral landscape.

Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin both dismiss Sinn Fein as morally unfit for government in the Republic.

The big difference is that while Varadkar's TDs are largely united behind him, some of Martin's seem to be going a bit wobbly. In fact, no fewer than seven Fianna Fail deputies have said that the idea cannot be ruled out - possibly because they think of Sinn Fein as their long-lost republican cousins.

This is why Adams' callous remarks about Tom Oliver amount to a serious wake-up call.

They show that Sinn Fein still exists in its own moral universe, one where even robbing banks or blowing up children may be justified as long you do it in the name of a united Ireland. Thankfully, most voters in the Republic can still see through this dangerous nonsense - which means any party foolish enough to do a deal with the Shinners would also be signing its own death warrant.

Adams also suggested last Thursday that we should all forget about catching Oliver's murderers because the killing was "politically motivated" - the IRA called their victim a police informer, something both his family and the gardai themselves have always rejected.

Strangely enough, however, Gerry never sees that as a valid excuse when it comes to British and loyalist atrocities. On the contrary, Sinn Fein never tire of calling for public inquiries into the Ballymurphy massacre or the shooting of solicitor Pat Finucane - even though those events were at least as "politically motivated" as what happened on the Cooley Peninsula 26 years ago.

Keeping track of the Shinners' double standards is fast becoming a full-time job. The Stormont Assembly has collapsed partly because of their demand for an Irish language act, which Adams describes as a human right. Sadly, the human rights of IRA victims and their relatives seem to be much lower on his priority list.

Just witness his disgraceful treatment of the Stack brothers last year when they sought justice for their father Brian - a brave prison officer murdered outside the National Stadium because he tried to foil a republican prison break from Portlaoise jail.

As George Orwell famously wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four, whoever controls the past controls the future. What sort of future might Sinn Fein give us if their sick and twisted version of Irish history ever becomes generally accepted?

Would the anniversary of Bobby Sands' death become a public holiday? Would they put up a statue of Martin McGuinness in the new College Green plaza? Would retired IRA bombers be given an army pension?

The best way of honouring Tom Oliver's memory is to make sure we never find out.

Belfast Telegraph