“What are Sinn Fein waiting for, more people to die?”

Interesting piece on BBC Spotlight on Tuesday night reviewed controversy over the Travers’ killing of April 1984. In passing at the beginning, it suggests the HET report into the killing of Mary Travers murder came to the conclusion that this operation was a deliberate attempt to kill all three family members. They also carried a statement from Mary McArdle saying “the murder of Mary Travers was a tragic mistake which I regret”.

In an impromptu interview with the BBC journalist Julian O’Neill (who was later told he had ‘blotted his copybook’ by Sinn Fein), the Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin let it slip that she thought the party had probably given the effect of giving her former OC the job of Special Advisor consideration beforehand, but then quickly stated she did not know for sure.

It also carried a statement that Sinn Fein is not working with the Historical Enquiries Team, but prefers to pitch for an international review body (which despite some frantic spinning to the contrary) is simply not going to play with their OFMDFM colleagues in the DUP. They’re not officially co-operating with the Republic’s Smithwick inquiry team either.

Ann Travers makes the point though that whilst she cannot argue with the democratic mandate of the people and that former terrorists are perfectly entitled to take their seats, the decision to promote Ms McArdle was an action that did not need to take place. ‘It goes two ways’ she says, and former terrorists should pay some mind to those whom they formerly made victims.

Then she closes with an appeal, saying that she does not want prosecutions, only that she wants to know the truth. And Liam Wray, the brother of one of those killed on Bloody Sunday in Derry, adds his own thoughts on the matter, “if the war is over, they should be thinking about telling what happened”.

It’s a great theory. But, in reality, there is no guarantee that such inquiries would not lead to arrests and/or convictions. Such a scenario would require an enormous amount of political will to make sure such guarantees were put in place. There is no evidence that any such political will actually exists.

You only have to look at the position the East Belfast UVF finds itself in with regard to the HET, now some of its former members have begun talking to the police to see a nightmare scenario unfolding for any former paramilitaries considering unburdening themselves.

In that sense, I don’t think Sinn Fein are waiting for the victims of their former IRA colleagues to die, so much as they are riding out each storm as they come along to buffet them and hoping eventually they will subside with time, and progress.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • HeinzGuderian

    The truth ?

    A dirty,little,sectarian,skirmish,that was unjustifiable.

  • pippakin

    In the case of Mary McArdle Ms Travers is right SF appointed someone they knew would cause additional pain to the family of a victim and increased controversy among the public,
    especially moderate voting public.

    I don’t believe SF are interested in a truth or any other commission that includes their operatives telling the whole truth publicly and openly. All such calls are mere rhetoric.

  • “…the Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin let it slip that she thought the party had probably given the effect of giving her former OC the job of Special Advisor,…” ?

  • Cynic2

    Given that there is such a HET focus on the UVF (which I agree with) why is there not an equivalent focus on the leadership of PIRA which for over 30 years constituted a criminal conspiracy to commit murder and various other crime?

  • RichyA

    Indeed, I believed Sinn Fein were a little more media savvy than to appoint someone so blatantly likely to antagonise not just unionist opinion, but also mainstream nationalist.
    Perhaps the hubris of their recent electoral sweep in the Republic has gone to their heads….

  • galloglaigh

    Perhaps the HET should go the full hog and investigate the RUC, its Special Branch, the UDR and the British army/government. Then the true picture of ‘The Troubles’ would emerge. There is no point picking sections of the conflict, while ignoring others. They were all in it, and they all committed crimes. They should all be investigated. Cherry picking the past suits the British, and that’s how it seems to be rolling.

  • Mick Fealty


    Fixed. Thanks.

  • Mick Fealty


    Step away from the keyboard and lay down your ‘whatabout’ asides. Ot there will be multiple ‘pingings’…

  • Did I misread this?
    Ms Travers wants the Truth but not prosecutions.
    there is no guarantee the Truth will lead to prosecutions.
    So who exactly wants prosecutions?

    I cant agree that Sinn Féin appointed Ms McArdle just to spite victims.
    I am totally prepared to believe that they appointed her and didnt actually give a thought to their victims.
    Its not in their nature to care.
    Nor in the nature of their voters. (Ms Travers is the Jean McConville de nos jours).
    Nor is it the nature of voters thinking of voting Sinn Féin to factor in the Travers case.

    As a committed anti-SF person says each time she sees Ms Travers interviewd “get over it luv, worse things happened to more than you”.
    And I expect that view is commonly held outside the chattering classes.
    We are in danger of making Ms McArdle a victim here.
    I would have preferred if she hadnt got her job.
    But actually Id now like her to keep it.

  • pippakin


    “I would have preferred if she hadnt got her job.
    But actually Id now like her to keep it.”

    Why? and you often say that SF voters don’t care which is patently true but their vote is not growing as much as they need it to and I think that shows that some people who are quite important every few years actually care quite a lot.

    It can’t ‘go away’ if the likes of SF/DUP keep throwing it in people’s faces.

  • slappymcgroundout

    The answer to the question that is the thread title is simple. Until an amnesty is on the table some will use the common sense that Deity so generously provided them with and not make any incriminating statements. If you well and truly want some to speak truth, then pass the legislation that works the amnesty. Such an amnesty will not guarantee that one and all with speak truth, but one would have to be a fool to speak truth in the absence of an amnesty.

  • Mick Fealty


    METHINKS you’re paraphrasing a little too much. I don’t think Ms Travers actually said they did it to spite her. She merely said it was ‘a two way street’.

  • galloglaigh

    Why the fuss?

    The PSNI is full of former RUC personell. They were up to as much as the IRA.

    The British army still has people in their ranks who committed murder in Ireland.

    The NIO still have personell who were involved in the dirty war.

    Why just McArdle; why not the whole lot of them?

    Hypocrisy comes to mind!

  • “But, in reality, there is no guarantee that such inquiries would not lead to arrests and/or convictions.”

    I think it can safely be assumed that ‘good’ loyalist and republican paramilitaries will not be subjected to the rigours of what passes for a justice system here. Also, anyone who contemplates seeking justice when certain elected representatives break the law can expect a visit and ‘advice’ from the friends of such representatives.

  • Henry94

    I think it would be very difficult for an organisation like the IRA to get involved in a process where individuals are expected to take responsibility for actions carried out on behalf of and under the orders of the IRA itself. If you were shot by the IRA then you were shot by the IRA. What does it matter who pulled the trigger?

    Someone gave an order, someone provided the gun someone drove the car someone kept a lookout. Someone looked the other way and someone put money in a box. Like it or not, it was a movement.

    I was a provo supporter. From my perspective as a 50 year old with a son born in the year of the ceasefire things look very different. But I am part of the collective responsibility for what was done by the IRA. Why should the people who in the words of John A. Murphy “had the courage of our casual convictions” now be lined up as scapegoats to either face legal proceedings or to face victims families. Why should they be excluded from anything?

    Reducing the complexity of the struggle or even one incident in it to the story of Ann Travers and Mary McArdle is a nonsense. It’s not justice and it’s certainly not about reconciliation. To draw a distinction between those who were prisoners and those who were not is something that should be done.

  • slappymcgroundout

    By the way, since our gal claims to not want prosecutions, then she can lead the charge on behalf of an amnesty. What can anyone say? Presumably, those here who said that only those like her are “victim” are now stuck in the position of having to say that only similar “victims” have the right to an opposing view, i.e., if the “victim” is okay with an amnesty then no reason you shouldn’t be as well, as you claim to not be “victim” and so you weren’t “damaged”, “harmed” and/or “injured” by the Troubles and so what right would you have to complain with respect to an amnesty?

  • galloglaigh

    Nevin, It can also safely be assumed that ‘good’ state employees within the RUC and the British army will not be subjected to the rigours of what passes for a justice system here.

    Like I said before, you cannot cherry pick. It was more than a republican/loyalist conflict. The highest offices in the MOD and the British government have questions to answer.

  • “I am totally prepared to believe that they appointed [McArdle] and didnt actually give a thought to their victims.”

    I think that is a very fair assessment, fjh. Also, it’s worth reflecting on the combined power and impact of Ministers, SpAds and associated ‘minders’ in our governance process. How many senior civil servants are going to ‘push back’ when confronted by those with a loyalist or republican paramiliary pedigree? I doubt if this theme was ever covered in the Yes, Minister TV series.

  • quality

    In a way, things to also be considered (which have gotten lost to an extent) are how is she (or any other SpAd) suitable for the job practically/skills wise and why isn’t the role subject to the same employment/tendering processes as other civil service roles.

    In an ideal world, a Minister would be advised by someone with a real pedigree in that chosen field rather than a jobs for the boys situation. That goes right across the political spectrum.

    The story seems like it will run and run, and I for one can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not. Ms Travers is entitled to speak for herself and her family, and I fully support her right to do so. She has conducted herself in a dignified manner, and is a credit to her family.

    It’s interesting to me at least that people on both sides of the argument seem content to talk for victims en masse though.

  • galloglaigh, I almost missed you comment. I agree about your references to conflict but I wouldn’t stop at our own government; the Irish and US administrations have also been involved in our governance. However, our loyalist and republican organisations have something of the Mafia in their make-up; hence my use of the terms Lafia and Mafia.

  • Id go further Nevin.
    Its not just a matter of some Special Advisors..or even appointees to public boards……its as much about the hangers on in the political process ….our ever present think tanks and public relations companies who are more likely to be on first name terms with the Ministers they affect to despise than ordinary punters like the likes of me or you.

    The Good Friday Agreement was sold in 1998 as a means of bringing the IRA to heel. A Ministry anda Special Advisor seemed to be a small price to pay. But five ministers and an army (no pun intended) of Special Advisors is a different matter and causes a re-think among people..many of whom were leading cheerleaders of the Agreement.
    Surely it could have been foreseen.
    I admit that I never really thought in 1998 that SF would be the leading player on the republican side. But at least my political acumen is no worse than most other observers.

    Those like Seamus Mallon who rather prematurely suggested the GFA was “Sunningdale for slow learners” have been caught out badly.
    The appontment of Ms McArdle is “the Good Friday Agreement for slow learners”.
    But the phoney debate around her appointment is little more than impotent chattering.
    Are SF going to order a re-think. “We went too far lads…the people posting on Slugger O’Toole wont accept it”.
    “Lets put out a wee statement that we are mindful of the hurt suffered and re-assign Mary to something else”.
    Nope I dont see that happening either.
    In 2011 Sinn Féin have appointed Mary McArdle.
    Thats “banked”. No turning back.
    In 2015 are they more likely to appoint no Special Advisors with “history” or two of them.
    Id say the latter. Because they have no regard for what their opponents think of them.

    Which means its solely a matter for the chattering classes.
    Because the alternative to chattering is to DO something.
    And I have not actually seen anyone DO anything.
    Peter Robinson has asked Sammy Wilson to review procedures. And……..well thats it.
    But Mary McArdle is working at the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure.
    She will be sitting alongside Caral Ní Chuilín at every Departmental meeting. With Permenant Secretaries, Deputies, assistants and all the rest.
    Is any civil servant actually going to get up from the table before a meeting starts and say “in solidarity with Ms Travers I will leave this meeting….”
    Of course in a perfect world DCAL staff wouldnt even talk about such things. But I suspect they do among each other. Do they point at her as she walks down the corridor “thats yer woman off the TV”.
    But are they “blanking her in the canteen”.
    And any representative of the Irish Football Assn, the Ulster Scots Agency, Arts Council, etc attending a meeting with the Minister is unlikely to say much.
    Nor are the PR gurus scoffing the vol au vents ata reception in the Long Gallery at Stormont. If they want access for a client to the Minister they are going to have to engage in small talk with Mary McArdle.
    Is any journalist covering the story going to walk out of a Ministerial Press Conference because of Mary McArdles presence?
    But they talk a good fight.
    Nobody will actually DO anything? Which means it is merely chatter.
    I believe the Americans havea phrase along the lines of “if you do not wish to urinate, please leave the toilet washroom facilities”.
    And this is a classic case.

  • fjh, I think the problems don’t so much flow from the 1998 Agreement but from its implementation. The majority YES vote gave London and Dublin, in association with Washington, the cover to do as they pleased. And it pleased them to do side deals with paramilitary organisations, in particular the PRM.

    There’s also a problem in the committee system where the DUP and SF hold seven out of the eleven seats. Public sessions give the minnows an opportunity to generate some leverage with outside support but the OFMDFM can easily step in ensure a break in that link ie private sessions. We may well have seen that in practice during the course of the PAC investigation into NI water.