Sinn Féin's inconsistency on killings and cover-ups?

Iirsh Times columnist, Fintan O’Toole doesn’t often enter the realm of Northern Irish politics, but when he does it is usually worth reading. This week he kicks off with an emotional portrayal of 1973 killing of a 14 year old by a IRA gunman who had been using her as cover to attack a British Army patrol. Although the IRA has finally admitted the killing, he argues that there is a long term inconsistency in Sinn Féin’s approach to unlawful killing and cover-ups (subs needed).

The IRA in Derry at the time was led by Martin McGuinness, now Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator. After the murder of Kathleen Feeney it issued a public statement that traded directly on the IRA’s reputation for telling the truth about its own activities: “The people of Derry are aware that we have admitted responsibility for our actions even at times when mistakes were made by us and civilians injured. We say categorically that the shooting of young Kathleen Feeney was the work of the British army and not of the republican movement.” It later announced that it had murdered a British soldier in direct retaliation for the army’s alleged shooting of Kathleen Feeney.

He then asserts:

If the IRA could establish 32 years later that one of their own members killed Kathleen Feeney, it is almost inconceivable that Martin McGuinness did not know this at the time.

And that:

Sinn Féin has repeatedly and at times eloquently demanded that there should not be a “hierarchy of victims” of the Troubles, yet it continues to operate in a blatantly hierarchical manner. While laconic, anonymous statements following secretive investigations are good enough for the IRA’s victims, nothing short of full accountability is good enough for the victims of the British state and loyalist paramilitaries.

Finally:

Sinn Féin also complains that politicians who knew about collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries “have never been called to account for their actions or for their culpability in the murder of citizens”. Yet for almost 32 years, senior leaders of Sinn Féin knew that the IRA was lying about the murder of Kathleen Feeney. They knew what happened and why. And they kept their mouths shut.

  • Northern FF

    O’Toole doesn’t miss and hit the wall with this one. An excellent piece.

  • Adrian Marley

    O’Toole’s piece is, as usual, spot-on. It makes for sobering and disquieting reading and shows up the double standards of Sinn Fein.

  • Aaron D

    Is Sinn Fein saying that every victim of the loyalist paramilitaries or British government deserves an inquiry? Or is it where they feel there is evidence that the two parties colluded in a very deliberate manner to target and kill their victim?

    If it’s the latter then this article amounts to waging war on straw men.

  • El Matador

    An excellent and accurate piece by O’Toole. The cases of the children murdered by the PIRA illustrate perfectly how the provisional movement has bastardised republicanism and nationalism.

    It is disgusting that such acts could have been done in the name of the Irish people, and even worse that they tried to justify it in the name of the ’cause’.

    They have no shame.

  • Jacko

    El Matador

    And worse again still, that there are otherwise good decent people within the republican and nationalist communities who still accept at face value anything the provo. fascists trot out by way of excuse or justification.
    Despite the often-expressed notion that “sorry” is the hardest thing to say, it isn’t: “I was wrong all along about these people” is.

  • middle-class taig

    Hmmmmm. I’m not so sure. Not only does O’Toole miss and hit the wall with his conjecture about the state of knowledge of senior leaders of SF, he entirely misses the point of historical inquiry into past misdeeds. There are really two different issues here.

    The first issue is the primacy of the rule of law in a purportedly democratic society. Even in time of war, where the state has been involved in murdering its citizens either directly or by directing terrorist proxies, justice and respect for the rule of law demand transparent and effective investigation BY THE STATE, and a recognition of wrongdoing by the state. Indeed, investigation and truth-telling of that nature vindicates the state. It is not the obligation of the state to avoid all wrong-doing by all of its officials. Rather it is the obligation of the state to diligently investigate and bring to light such wrongdoing, and to appropriately compensate its victims. I respect Blair for setting up the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. I respect Britain for it. I’m not delighted with how they’ve conducted their defence, but there you go. I choose to judge Britain’s bona fides for the future not on how it fought the war, but on how serious it is about reconciliation. I judge the IRA similarly.

    Northern nationalists are either entitled to the protection of British law or we are not. Either we have and had a right not to be murdered by the state (and in cases of breach of that right, to expeditious investigation and justice) or we did not. It really is that simple. O’Toole’s analysis diminishes that right.

    The second issue is the issue of post-conflict “truth-and-reconciliation” arrangements. The governments have so far failed to establish a forum in which truth-telling can adequately be pursued by state and non-state actors, without fear of prosecution. By going down the “historic cases” police investigation route, I fear that HMG is missing a huge opportunity to assist victims on all sides. In the absence of a T&RC, the IRA appears to be unilaterally filling that vacuum. The problem correctly identified by O’Toole is that the IRA is doing so inconsistently, anonymously, incompletely and in a piecemeal fashion. But in the absence of proper arrangements, what other realistic choice do it and its members have but to proceed anonymously and in secret? Accommodation at Her Majesty’s pleasure remains available.

    (Nonetheless, this johnny-come-lately republican would like to see similar statements in relation to a broader range of IRA mistakes (whether accidents or war-crimes), rather than just a select few from within the nationalist community. The republican movement should not content itself with matching the British state’s low standards in this regard. The nationalist community looks back (often, admittedly, with rose-tinted spectacles) and sees a struggle for liberation littered with errors and misjudgments. It will respect the telling of truths previously unpalatable.)

    However, O’Toole’s approach deserves the sternest criticism. By failing to recognise that there is a difference between the IRA and the forces of the British state, O’Toole is effectively saying to northern nationalists that because a small percentage among our number took arms purportedly on behalf of the nation, the British state was entitled to murder the rest of us with impunity. He no doubt unconsciously, but none the less eloquently for it, makes the case that our second class citizenship was and continues to be deserved and appropriate. Moreover, he elevates the IRA to a position akin to a sovereign government; an analysis which will no doubt delight the most recalcitrant elements of the O’Bradaigh fringe, as it retrospectively justifies the very acts for which he demands apology.

    Woolly, shoddy, reactionary thinking. Like Roy Keane, a talented but worn-out professional, long-past his best, getting by on doing merely passably what he used to do brilliantly.

  • Waitnsee

    Nonsense. O’Toole is only holding the republicans to their own rhetoric. They claim to be the legitimate government of Ireland themselves, don’t they?

  • middle-class taig

    Waitnsee

    Uh, no, they don’t!

  • Jimmy_Sands

    I agree with MCT. To argue as O’Toole does implies a moral equivalence between the proper function of a democratic state and that of a terrorist group. As for holding them to their rhetoric, unless you are prepared to swallow that rhetoric, it is a sterile exercise. Members of the security forces who commit murder betray their office. IRA members who murder merely fulfil theirs.

  • Waitnsee

    Well now yes they do, unless Mitchel McLaughlin means “no” by a sudden silence.
    I also agree that the forces of the state should be held to a higher standard than Gerry’s pond-scum band of brothers – but the point is that the Shinners clearly don’t think that, so what’s their basis for operating a double standard on their own murders?

    BTW, as with Bloody Sunday, we could easily avoid the expense and trauma of inquiries into the likes of Claudy if the perpetrators would simply own up. There is no prospect of anyone serving a prison sentence for these crimes now.

  • TAFKABO

    There is a certain amount of validity in the argument that the State should always be held to a higher level of accountability.
    But what MCT and others fail to grasp is that the recent upsurge in people insisting on the republican movement coming clean on their past misdeeds is because the RM are becoming the “State”.

    If the RM want to play with the big boys, then they have to follow big boys rules.

  • Jimmy_Sands

    TAFKABO,

    They are not in any real sense “becoming” the state, albeit many of its leaders are being assimilated into it. They were certainly in no sense in any position analagous to that of the state when these crimes were committed.

  • David

    Jimmy_Sands “Members of the security forces who commit murder betray their office. IRA members who murder merely fulfil theirs”.

    Who exactly appointed the IRA to this office? How did they achieve this right to murder innoncent people? To quote Tolkein ‘There are many people alive who deserve death but there are equally many dead how deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then dont be so quick to judge…’

  • middle-class taig

    TAFKABO

    Well, by “big boys’ rules”, I assume you don’t mean the State’s general policy of obfuscation and disinformation, but the kind of transparency I’m arguing for in respect of the state. It would be nice if the state played by such rules. Generally, the expression “big boys’ rules” smacks awfully of the turns of phrase used around shoot-to-kill and Gibraltar. Again, it approximates the IRA to the State.

    I also hope you don’t mean that failure by members of the IRA to reveal their past misdeeds absolves the British state of its obligations to its victims in the nationalist community.

    Waitnsee

    If you can point me to any SF policy document claiming to be the government of Ireland, or any recent IRA statement to that effect, I’ll begin to take your point seriously.

    Arguably, with acknowledgments of guilt, the RM is holding itself to a higher standard than the British state, which in everything from Finucane to Bloody Sunday seeks to avoid responsibility, withhold what it knows, destroy evidence and pin blame on everyone but those who bore official responsibility.

  • peteb

    Side-tracked already?

    “Hierarchy of victims” or “no hierarchy of victims”?

    That’s were the hyprocisy lies.

  • carlosblancos

    “By failing to recognise that there is a difference between the IRA and the forces of the British state, O’Toole is effectively saying to northern nationalists that because a small percentage among our number took arms purportedly on behalf of the nation, the British state was entitled to murder the rest of us with impunity.”

    However, the Provisionals are very good at making such a distinction despite the fact that they also, like the British state, murdered children, viewed citizens of their own community as ‘collateral’, engaged in senseless violence which did nothing for their cause and were heavily involved in collusion (and they got away with that one portraying Stakeknife as one rotten apple when its clear that informers were widespread in the IRA)

  • middle-class taig

    David

    I think Jimmy was calling the IRA murdering terrorists, not saying they had a right to murder.

    Despite opposing the IRA’s right to take arms, he is sufficiently intellectually honest to recognise that the IRA’s existence and activities did not and do not alter the obligations of the State.

  • Waitnsee

    Ah yes, a “Sinn Fein policy document”.
    I refer to the IRA’s green book, which states as much right at the front where even the really slow learners will probably read it.
    Now show me one Sinn Fein document, statement or even suggestion that the IRA’s rules don’t supplant everybody else’s.

  • Jacko

    M-c T
    “Hmmmmm. I’m not so sure. Not only does O’Toole miss and hit the wall with his conjecture about the state of knowledge of senior leaders of SF, he entirely misses the point of historical inquiry into past misdeeds”.

    So O’Toole misses and hits the wall about the state of knowledge of senior leaders of SF, does he? Even though the two most senior SF leaders headed up the IRA in Befast and Derry when most of the atrocities were taking place.
    Doesn’t look to me that it is O’Toole who has missed and hit the wall.

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see!

  • martin

    Waitandsee,

    In 1986 general tom Maguire,last surviving member of the 2nd all Ireland Dail,and last surviving commadant of the Old Ira transfered the powers said to vest in him, from the provos to the continuity because the provo s recognised the legitimacy of the hated Free state.

  • David

    Middle Class Taig “Despite opposing the IRA’s right to take arms, he is sufficiently intellectually honest to recognise that the IRA’s existence and activities did not and do not alter the obligations of the State.”

    I am not saying they do what I said was that the IRA had in no way the right to murder and they were not fufilling some romaticised idea of office

  • Chris Gaskin

    “In 1986 general tom Maguire,last surviving member of the 2nd all Ireland Dail,and last surviving commadant of the Old Ira transfered the powers said to vest in him, from the provos to the continuity because the provo s recognised the legitimacy of the hated Free state”

    Even if we start going down that road Tom Maguire didn’t have the power to do so as that power had been given to the Provisionals and could not be taken back by Tom.

    This whole line of debate is a red herring

  • PatMcLarnon

    [Play the ball – ed. Mod]

    ‘Sinn Féin also complains that politicians who knew about collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries “have never been called to account for their actions or for their culpability in the murder of citizens”. ‘

    Quite clearly this is a factual observation. While these people were given a free hand the law was bastardised in an effort to put as many republicans as possible into the grave or to jail. A fact that has never exercised the O’Tooles of this world too much.

  • Waitnsee

    And Pat plays the ball again.

  • Brighid McBride

    “If the IRA could establish 32 years later that one of their own members killed Kathleen Feeney, it is almost inconceivable that Martin McGuinness did not know this at the time.”

    So, what O’Toole argues conversely is that Margaret Thatcher knew precisely what the FRU was up to and that it would be inconceivable that Thatcher did not know what Brian Nelson was doing at the time….

    “Sinn Féin has repeatedly and at times eloquently demanded that there should not be a “hierarchy of victims” of the Troubles, yet it continues to operate in a blatantly hierarchical manner. While laconic, anonymous statements following secretive investigations are good enough for the IRA’s victims, nothing short of full accountability is good enough for the victims of the British state and loyalist paramilitaries.”

    O’Toole’s conflation of Sinn Fein and the IRA notwithstanding: Nothing short of full accountability is due for all victims. The British and Irish governments are public entities, elected by the public to serve the public. If O’Toole is conflating the IRA with the governments, that would be a quite risky path, and indeed, at least we now know about Feeney. We will likely never know about all of the victims of Brian Nelson, and the Inquiries Bill was the government’s latest attempt to obstruct all justice for the Finucane family.

    Finally

    “Sinn Féin also complains that politicians who knew about collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries “have never been called to account for their actions or for their culpability in the murder of citizens”. Yet for almost 32 years, senior leaders of Sinn Féin knew that the IRA was lying about the murder of Kathleen Feeney. They knew what happened and why. And they kept their mouths shut.”

    Does O’Toole provide any proof whatsoever for this astonishing claim, or is he consulting psychics and playing with Ouija boards these days?

  • carlosblancos

    Pat,

    “While these people were given a free hand the law was bastardised in an effort to put as many republicans as possible into the grave or to jail.”

    Hmmm. Most people are aware of how the Brits were able to jail/murder people….with the help of other Provisionals who were colluding with various British agents. And despite the fact that the Propaganda boys would have you believe that there was only 1 Stakeknife, it is clear that there was more than one individual.

    It is frustrating to see that people ignore the fact that one of the reasons Adams decided to end the IRA was the fact that he saw how the organisation was riddled with British informers who helped the Brits further harm the cause of Republicanism. At least for that he merits being described as a Republican. The other brainless goons who failed to see historically how British counter-insurgency worked (and there are many examples) and only saw the colour of British money are fully deserving of their Provisional title. Then again we should have expected it, armed republicanism has often failed due to the role of informers.

  • middle-class taig

    Jacko

    Even assuming what you say is true, who’s to say there was perfect information within the ranks of the IRA at that time? Some members may now be prepared to admit to things they previously wouldn’t acknowledge to colleagues.

    Waitnsee

    Where can I obtain a current copy of this “green book” and SF’s position on the status of that text? I can find nothing on it on their website.

  • Chris Gaskin

    MCT

    Check out TPCoogan’s book “IRA” as it has extracts of the green book

  • Waitnsee

    Ed Maloney’s book also has it as an appendix, as do several Martin Dillon books. That is, of course, assuming that you are actually interested and not just making sarcastic allusions to the idea that Sinn Fein and the IRA are completely seperate organisations – in which case, *yawn*.

  • tomasmaguire
  • Jacko

    Brighid McBride
    “So, what O’Toole argues conversely is that Margaret Thatcher knew precisely what the FRU was up to and that it would be inconceivable that Thatcher did not know what Brian Nelson was doing at the time….”

    Sure thing, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom with a population of about 65 million and armed forces of 100s of thousands was as directly aware of what individuals were up to as some guy from the backstreets of Belfast or Derry who not only grew up with most of the people at his direct command, but recruited them, gave them orders and sanctioned their operations.
    Perfect analogy.

    As I said: none so blind …

  • Waitnsee

    Interesting to note that in addition to declaring itself the legitimate government of Ireland in section 1, the IRA’s Green Book also refers very casually to the ‘death penalty’ in its court martial procedures.
    AFAIK not even the armies of any other European country enforce the death penalty arising from court martials.
    Something to refer to Monica, perhaps?

  • martin

    CHRIS, RE 1986

    Tom could do that because he had already taken it back from the officials,and given it to provisionals.

    Even if the provisionals were the true inheritors the powers were only given to the IRA army council for the period that less than 5 elected TDs were in the Dail—this would
    mean that when the 5 current Sinn Fein TDs were elected in republican purist terms they would be the rightful government of the Republic—These conditions were made in 1919 when there was a
    danger that many OF THE Sinn Fein TDs being arrested—-However in 1986 Tom Maguire took back the authority of the second dail from the Provisional IRA and gave it TO The Continuity IRA just as in 1970 he took it from the Official IRA and gAVE it to the Provisionals.

    As far as Im concerned the Second Dail died with Tom in 1993-and the Provisionals are the only show in town.

  • Jo

    Er…when the majority of people vote for eighty years to elect parties to form successive governments of a country which calls itself the Republic of Ireland and that country is internationally recognised and is as legitimate in terms of commanding allegiance as any other country on this Earth, doesn’t the idea of a small violent band thinking itself the only true rightful government due to an election after WW1, seem a little odd?

    It doesn’t seem odd to me.

    Its quite obviously completely barkingly and, as it happens, murderously mad.

  • Betty Boo

    This is more a question then a comment, but hasn’t the RM complaint so heavily about a hierarchy of victims because its dead and the dead of its community haven’t been recognized as equally horrifying as those killed by republicans.

  • middle-class taig

    Waitnsee

    Who’s to say that version of the green book is current? In any event, the text I’ve been referred to doesn’t read as a rule book to me. It’s a mixture of historical analysis, statements of intent, tips for users and rules of procedure. Certainly not the forum for grand constitutional claims. Is there any relatively recent public statement from even the IRA that it is Ireland’s legitimate government?

    Moreover, SF and the IRA are different organisations. I do hope you’re not arguing that they are one and the same organisations and that every member of one is a member of the other. SF does not claim to be the government of Ireland. Instead, it offers itself for election in both jurisdictions and asks the people to make it the government by operation of law and democracy. A more compelling insight on their position than some arcane, obsolescent text. They’ve been ministers in a British government for crying out loud.

    You’re using this nonsense as nothing other than a smoke screen to absolve the British state of its responsibilities to the innocent catholics it murdered. That, my friend, is obscene.

  • Jo

    “I refuse to recongise the State”

    all too often became:

    “I refuse to recognise the inside of this cell.”

  • martin

    JO,

    some people would argue that having been declared a soverign 32 county Republic in 1919-that Republic can never be legally partitioned no matter what election results are over the next 80 years.Therefore anyone who enters into a partitionist parliment north or south or defends it is guilty of treason in PURIST republican eyes–they claim to be the true custodians of the 32 county Republic de jure, waiting until that Republic can be re-established de facto.

    I however am not a purist republican in this sense and I dont think there are many left anymore either

  • Jo

    Martin,

    I don’t believe I said you were?

    That there ever were people who believed this might explain the durability of a pointless conflict, but then again it gave them some moral position from which they felt that they could kill children, so that sends that set of beliefs straight to Hell where it belongs.

  • JD

    Jo,

    You should not fool yourself that this conflict endured so long due to some form of purist republican dogma. The causes of this conflict were deep, longstanding and many and, no doubt, we could argue about what they were. However denial of those causes may condemn us to recreate them, something none of us wants.

  • Jo

    JD:

    I agree that we don’t want to recreate the causes and roots of conflict – neither do we want to encourage value in a mythology and pseudo-spiritual legacy of a “cause” which will kill our childrens children.

  • JD

    If the terminology of the conflict included someone doing something for ‘the cause’. It was never, in my opinion, about some “pseudo-spiritual legacy” but more do with challenging injustice, defending rights or at times lashing out in revenge. I am not attempting to justify conflict just offer some analysis of it.

  • martin

    JO,

    I didnt say you did call me a purist Republican I was just stating that I am not one.