Comment - Warren Little - Spectre of the terrified still hangs over Sinn Fein

Published: 13 Feb 2014 17:58

It’s Saturday evening and there’s a clamorous applause in Wexford as Gerry Adams takes to the stage at the Sinn Fein ard fheis.

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He’s in fine form. Promising to keep every commitment he makes, he says he’ll give more money to disabled children, young people in general, the ambulance service, the arts, the Gaeltacht. He wants more doctors and nurses, free drugs and no rises in student fees. New school builds and capital projects. More money for carers and home help and easy on the dole cuts. Keep all the Garda stations and the post offices and the schools. Help people with their mortgages, provide flood defences and don’t apply water charges. Draped in fraternal fondness and speaking for the world, he notes with sorrow the passing of his friend ‘Madiba’. He talks about ‘living together in peace and respect and with tolerance from everyone for everyone’. ‘The tide of history’, he says with all the wide-eyed sincerity he can muster, ‘is with those who seek to build a peaceful and inclusive future’.

How could you not love the guy? A statesman, saying all the right things.

Listening at home are people who know a different side of Gerry Adams and his movement. People for whom all that is spit in a bucket. They note the subtle name checks and the language of the violent ‘revolutionary’; the nod to ‘our comrades’. They take to Twitter and, hijacking a hashtag Sinn Fein set up to automatically relay messages onto the Sinn Fein website, they broadcast what Gerry Adams’ words mean to them.

‘Greetings to OTRs’ said Adams, meaning ‘on the runs’, including a man wanted for questioning on the Enniskillen bomb. ‘Samuel Gault murdered by IRA on Remembrance Sunday 1987’ posted Samuel’s son, Stephen, the message appearing on the website stark as a gravestone.

‘Greetings to John Downey’ ventured Adams, referring to the man charged with the Hyde Park bombing. And up pops a photo of the horrific aftermath, the motionless rump of a horse all we can see, but enough. Downey might not have done it, of course, but Adams certainly isn’t facilitating his release by telling us who did.

‘Treat Orangemen with respect…the Order is one of our national traditions’, declares Adams, while tweets to the website remind us that his ‘comrades’ killed over 330 Orangemen without apology. And so it continues, all through his speech. It’s a poke in the eye and nothing more, but a reflection of a certain credibility deficit Sinn Fein has and always will have. People who have seen the dirt in Sinn Fein’s kitchen will never swallow the food that comes out of it, no matter how appetising it’s made to look.

‘Rural Ireland under attack!’ exhorts Gerry, while the farmers of the Fermanagh borders knew what real attack looks like; stalked and murdered as they were from hedgerows as they sat in their tractors, their families and neighbours fleeing their hearths in panic, never to return. ‘Solidarity to all victims of the conflict’ he offers from afar. But his phoney embrace is lost in the wind as he tramples down the clay on Truth’s grave.

The Sinn Fein faithful learns early on how to deal with confrontations. They know how to wrap up these horrible crimes and repackage them, nice and tidy. ‘Bad things happen in a war. No one has a monopoly on suffering. What about Bloody Sunday.’

Adams wheedles on. He talks with unintended irony of the ‘obvious futility of militarism’ in Syria and the Central African Republic. People wonder how he ever thought there was a need for it here. Ann Travers, tweeting ‘I love you Mary’ onto the website, wonders at the futility of the IRA putting a deadly bullet in her sister’s back on her way home from mass. The litany proceeds – Bloody Friday, La Mon, Kingsmills, the sheer number betraying the futility of the ‘war’ as a whole more than mere tragic exception.

It isn’t all about ‘war’, anyway. Back to Adams as he decries the culture of sexual abuse and institutional violence of the Magdalene laundries, just as the Belfast Rape and Crisis Centre wonder what Sinn Fein did for the women who met ‘frightening hostility’ when they complained of abuse at the hands of the IRA. And the alleged clean-up operation after the McCartney and Quinn murders. Nothing to do with ‘war’.

No one’s all bad. I’ve heard people, wracked with akrasia, say they found Martin McGuinness to be very likeable. He says all the right things. But then there’s the business of the Frank Hegarty murder, and Joanne Mathers, and Patsy Gillespie, and on, and on. Sinn Fein’s local representatives are friendly, personable people. Michelle Gildernew was a good agriculture minister by most accounts. Her hands and those of the younger members of Sinn Fein are clean and it’s easier to see them represent a shared future. But they don’t half toe the line. Those horrific things were done in the name of ‘Irish freedom’ and that’s the end of it. An ever-lengthening list of atrocities are now described as ‘wrong’, but not wrong enough, it seems, to face justice.

For as long as that remains the case, the names and faces of victims will pop up on the proverbial website and continue to haunt Sinn Fein.

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