Suzanne Breen: These people aren't republicans... they're simply scumbags
SF got it right in New Lodge, but what of the thugs in their own ranks?
The scenes we've witnessed in the New Lodge area of Belfast in recent days have been nothing short of shameful.
Scumbags in the streets brandishing kitchen knives and crossbows. A bonfire that meant misery for those living beside it. Law and order totally broken down.
This isn't republicanism, Sinn Fein politicians have told us, and they're right. It's gangsterism and thuggery by those who don't care tuppence about their own community.
The party was correct to vehemently oppose the bonfire, and got called all sorts by some local youths for doing so.
Commentators have gone into overdrive to praise its courageous leadership. Yet there are reasons why I wouldn't be pinning medals on any chests just yet.
The bonfire took place yards from the Fianna House tower block. The Housing Executive asked residents to evacuate the building for their own safety, and Sinn Fein was rightly angered at the inconvenience caused to them.
But one man in those flats suffered a far greater injustice than having to move out for a few hours, and Sinn Fein has certainly never been noted for fighting his corner.
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Andrew Kearney was watching TV with his two-week-old daughter Caitlin Rose sleeping on his chest when eight IRA men burst in.
They overpowered him with chloroform and tied his hands behind him with plastic strips. They smashed the telephone, dragged him out to the stairwell, and shot him three times.
They disabled the lift to delay help. His girlfriend found him lying there in a pool of blood.
The neighbours heard the shots and her screams but were too frightened to open their doors. Lisa Darragh had to run down 16 flights of stairs, her baby in her arms, to ring an ambulance.
It was too late, Kearney bled to death.
His 'crime' had been to intervene when the IRA's then North Belfast commander had threatened a 17-year-old in a Falls Road pub.
They went outside and, in the subsequent fight, Kearney knocked out the Provo. Publicly humiliated, he got his revenge a fortnight later.
Kearney's mother Maureen had been a lifelong republican. Relatives had served prison sentences and the family voted Sinn Fein. Maureen initially expected justice from the republican movement.
There was none. The commander, and those who followed his orders that night, remained in place.
Within a year of her son's murder, Maureen herself was dead from a broken heart.
There were no mobile phone cameras capturing the brutal death of Andrew Kearney. Nor is their social media footage of the stabbing of Robert McCartney seven years later, or the horrific assault in a border barn two years after that when the life was agonisingly beaten out of Paul Quinn.
None of these killings can be brushed away as part of 'the war on the Brits'. The victims were civilian working-class nationalists.
But Sinn Fein's record isn't one of bravely challenging any of the men's killers on the ground. Indeed some involved in the Quinn murder and cover-up stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the party in south Armagh.
It's one thing rowing with the bonfire builders in north Belfast. Real courage for me would be senior figures in the party taking on those closer to home who wielded knives, iron bars and nail-studded cudgels.
Because surely the Quinn, Kearney and McCartney killers inhabit the same moral space as those with knifes in the New Lodge last week? It's thuggery and gangsterism, not republicanism, after all.