Silly season: terrorists complaining of other terrorists…

Rather belatedly, we have Alex Kane’s Newsetter column for 20th August. He believes that the Loyalist campaign of violence towards its rivals and ordinary, peaceable Catholics should be utterly condemned. He also believes that the government is compromised by its ongoing deals with Republican paramilitaries.By Alex Kane

Journalists often refer to August as the “silly season,” a time when lack of so-called hard news allows more trivial matters to creep into the headlines. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has pushed it a step further and transformed it into the “bloody stupid season.” Being lectured by him on the subject of sectarian violence is a bit like listening to King Herod on the subject of infant childcare.

On Thursday, launching a dossier about the violence of “unionist paramilitaries,” he accused the UUP and DUP of failing to “grasp the reality that the biggest threat to this process at this time comes from violent unionism…and that the unionist parties are ignoring the democratic mandate of Sinn Fein.”

And what exactly, Mr Kelly, is Sinn Fein’s “democratic mandate”? At the General Election this year Sinn Fein polled 174, 530 votes, 24 per cent of the total vote and around 60 per cent of the nationalist vote. In other words, a clear majority of nationalists voted for a political party which has excused and justified thirty-five years of systematic and orchestrated sectarian brutality against the pro-Union community. Your mandate, Mr Kelly, is, in essence and in reality, a mandate for sectarian violence. And you, Mr Kelly, are a thundering, fork-tongued hypocrite.

In another part of the dossier Mr Kelly accuses unionist politicians of sitting on forums with the leaders of unionist paramilitaries. Yet, in other recent statements, he has also accused those same unionist politicians of failing to sit in an Assembly or Executive Committee with Sinn Fein, the political front of a still armed and still active IRA. While it is true that both UUP and DUP representatives have been involved with loyalist paramilitaries on community forums (and I have expressed my disquiet on the subject), all of the available evidence suggests that the end purpose has been to weaken and remove the grip that those paramilitaries have exercised. Sinn Fein, on the other hand, regards these community forums as merely another opportunity for promoting a republican agenda.

The main thrust of the dossier is that unionism isn’t doing enough to condemn the activities of loyalist paramilitaries. Odd then, that the political representatives of those loyalist paramilitaries have been consistently and comprehensively rejected by the pro-Union electorate. And even when, in the 1998 Assembly Election, there was a little spurt of support for the PUP and UDP, it had melted away by 2003 when it had become clear that loyalist paramilitaries weren’t genuine about their commitment to, or the intended consequences of, the peace process.

I used the term odd, because the same electoral trend was not apparent on the nationalist side of the fence. Indeed, quite the opposite. Sinn Fein actually increased its vote since 1998, even though the IRA had continued, albeit on a smaller scale, to go about its thuggish paramilitary business. Oddly enough, I wasn’t exactly deafened by the chorus of Sinn Fein voices condemning that paramilitarism.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the whole dossier is the fact that Sinn Fein can’t actually produce one quote from a single unionist MP, MLA or local councillor, which could be interpreted as condoning loyalist paramilitarism. The best they can come up with is a bit of theatrical intemperance from John Taylor in 1972 and Ian Paisley in 1985. Hardly an avalanche of evidence, is it?! And certainly nothing which even begins to compare with the proven and suspected criminality of many of Sinn Fein’s elected representatives.

On a personal level I despise loyalist paramilitaries. They may cloak their activities in the mantle of “God and Ulster,” but no amount of self-serving patriotism will mask the stench of criminality, corruption, intimidation (primarily of working-class unionists) and naked sectarianism which permeates their existence. In some senses they are even worse than the IRA; merely using the excuse of needing to respond to armed republicanism as a cover for their own desperately sordid turf wars and empire building.

When it comes down to it, though, paramilitarism, from whatever source, is the same evil and thoroughly anti-democratic entity. Each and every incident in Gerry Kelly’s dossier is an affront to democracy and deserves condemnation. But not from him or from those like him on either side of the blood-soaked fences and peace walls. The very fact that he is too stupid—or too disingenuous—to appreciate that reality, may explain why Sinn Fein/IRA is still playing politics rather than seeking a jointly accommodating political settlement.

My real concern at this stage of the process is that Sinn Fein doesn’t actually care that its democratic bluff has been called. Mind you, having an actual mandate for violence, hypocrisy and sectarianism makes their position very much easier than that of the solely democratic parties. It helps, too, that both the British and Irish governments are determined to accept and accommodate that mandate for terrorism. Which probably explains why Blair and Ahern have been sent copies of the dossier.

Terrorists complaining to Prime Ministers about the activities of other terrorists! Whatever next, in the increasingly surreal environment which passes for everyday politics in Northern Ireland? And who says the “silly season” only lasts a month.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 20th August 2005