Doug Beattie: The mask slips... republicans weren't victims, they were victim-makers
One callous tweet by Barry McElduff was enough to reduce Sinn Fein's much-vaunted 'equality' and 'respect' agenda to mere dust before their very eyes, writes Doug Beattie
The past ten days or so have not been a very edifying spectacle for anyone looking at the Northern Ireland political scene.
The now infamous tweet from Barry McElduff triggered a wave of revulsion that genuinely seemed to have taken Sinn Fein by surprise.
Sinn Fein have spent so long lecturing the rest of us about the need for equality, respect and integrity that they forgot the one rule. Never demand anything from others that you are not prepared to give yourself.
They almost seem to have fallen for their own spin. It is as if they have completely forgotten the trail of devastation which the republican movement left in its wake until it realised that the terror campaign had failed, and politics offered the only alternative.
But then again, this is no normal political party.
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Sinn Fein brook no internal dissent. Allegations of bullying have dogged the party in many areas of the Republic in particular.
This alone would have been enough to remove a party leader, but then again, if the revelations that Gerry Adams had covered up sex abuse within his own family wasn't enough to see him off, what's a little old-fashioned bullying between comrades?
In Sinn Fein's own mind, the IRA's bloody campaign is no impediment to demanding the rest of the world bow down before them as the arbiters of all that is just, fair and equal.
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Every so often the mask slips a bit, as with Gerry Adams' comments that equality was merely the Trojan Horse that would be used to 'break these b******s' in a reference to unionists.
And the mask slipped again with Barry McElduff's antics.
Sinn Fein's reaction was text book cynicism in action. Initially it was a case of silence. Then a meaningless sanction, whereby an MP who doesn't go to Westminster was to be 'punished' by being kept on full pay and allowed to use his party office in the most meaningless suspension ever envisaged.
In a display of utter cynicism Barry McElduff's resignation only materialised once it was clear that the story wasn't going away and was actually damaging Sinn Fein's electoral prospects in the Republic.
The courageous and powerful interview from Kingsmill survivor Alan Black on RTE struck a chord with people in the Republic and farther afield, and brought home just what horrors the IRA had done in the name of Ireland and the Irish people. Kingsmill was no longer an event from 40 years ago, it was brought to life by a good and decent man with no bitterness in his heart in spite of what had been done to him and his friends.
This was the end for Barry McElduff. Not because Sinn Fein voters in Northern Ireland had a problem - but because the Republic and the wider world was now jolted into a state of awareness at what lay behind the smart suits of the new generation of Sinn Fein politicians in the Dail.
For once Sinn Fein's efficient and well funded public relations (PR) operation was on the back foot. For so long it had made strides in its aim to change the public and international perception of what went before in an attempt to brand Sinn Fein as some kind of Robin Hood organisation.
But with one tweet it has failed and it has failed spectacularly.
What the Kingsmill massacre has reminded us all is that Sinn Fein were the cheerleaders of the IRA. They promoted, endorsed and remained silent about the murders of these 10 Protestant men which they now - 42 years late - are prepared to call vile sectarian murders. Sinn Fein's persistent inability to differentiate between victim and victim-maker is a mark of their desperation to promote the IRA campaign as justified.
The Sinn Fein PR machine is now in overdrive in an attempt to distance themselves from the murders and the mocking of the victims by Barry McElduff. It has blown holes in their respect and equality agenda and it has even made headlines in the United States. What was once a haven for violent Irish republicans and their propaganda is now openly questioning the IRA and their political wing in Sinn Fein.
The New York Times is now referring to the IRA as the victim-makers and that was not part of the Sinn Fein script.
All victims deserve to be treated with respect. I am very clear that Northern Ireland has many victims. There were victims of loyalist terrorism, victims of state violence and victims of republican terrorism. Nobody has a monopoly on victimhood and a mother's grief is the same whether her son was an IRA man or a British soldier.
Over 3,000 people lost their lives and whilst some were involved in high profile incidents, many were not and have been all but forgotten other than by their families who have been left to pick up the pieces of broken lives and carry on as best they can.
Sinn Fein should remember these people the next time they talk about respect and equality.
Doug Beattie MC is Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann