With reports that a replacement statue of the controversial IRA leader during WWII, Sean Russell, is due to be unveiled in April this year [Dublin city council permission pending – Ed] – the previous statue having been the site of recent Sinn Féin commemorations until its decapitation 2 years ago – in the Belfast Telegraph, Eamonn McCann argues that it’s time for SF “to announce that it had reviewed its reverence for Russell and removed him from the pantheon of republican heroes”From the article
The awakening of memory is the main reason republicans today should publicly disown Sean Russell.
A comforting theory that Russell wasn’t a collaborator but a simple military man who found himself in Hitlerite Berlin in 1940 and had little option but to stay onside with a regime which he detested, was exploded two years ago in an feature in History Ireland, Oh Here’s to Adolf Hitler, by the left-wing historian, Brian Hanley.
Hanley dug out an article from The United Irishman of October 1951, marking the unveiling of the Fairview Park statue. It detailed, quite without embarrassment, the considerable luxury in which Russell lived in Berlin and the respect and esteem in which he was held by the Nazis as he negotiated how the IRA might best coordinate its activity with the Nazis in the unfolding conflict with Britain.
This was eight years after Hitler had come to power, seven years after the construction of the Dachau concentration camp, six years after the promulgation of the law banning Jews from German citizenship, three years after Crystalnacht, when Jewish homes and synagogues were destroyed, scores of Jews murdered and thousands hauled off to prison camps. All this was widely known. And yet Russell cheerfully discussed and planned an IRA-Nazi alliance.
Surely there are few Sinn Fein supporters who can contemplate with equanimity their party again sending a speaker – as we are told may well happen – to garland the memory of Sean Russell with praise?
It strikes me that a restored statue of Russell might not last long unscathed. But that’s not the point. The point, as we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, is to rid ourselves of the muck of history, so that we might better face into the future.
As they consider fundamental revision this weekend of the ideas which have sustained them over the years, Sinn Feiners might also consider whether it’s not well past time to kick over the Fairview Park statue.