“…no amount of conflict transformation rhetoric can plaster over the bloodied past”

Guesting on Eamonn Mallie’s blog, Cillian McGrattan points out that the past is not a good place for Sinn Fein to picking fights. And he also hints that the media and others have been rather too indulgent in the party’s own peculiar doublethink on the past, if for understandable reasons…

…indulging the party may stave off the inevitable collapse but unless Sinn Féin begins to articulate a vision of politics based on social responsibility rather than craven self-interest, a vision of society based on pluralism, inclusion and accountability rather than universal blame and exculpation then it will continue to run into delusional dead-ends.

Despite the Orwellian-sounding Maze project, Northern Ireland has not yet entered a Bizarro world where language becomes strips of meaning and history can be rewritten to serve contemporary needs.

Sinn Féin’s credibility gap will continue to grow unless the party changes course – no amount of conflict transformation rhetoric or multi-million pound peace projects can plaster over the bloodied past.


  • Morpheus

    OK Mick, SF = root of all evil, we get it.

  • Fortlands

    Mick – I’m reluctant to disagree with a good-natured fellow like yourself (not to mention a positive visitor to my blog), but I think a couple of points bear keeping in mind.
    1. The past is not a good place for picking fights for any of the former combatants. To avoid fights by nominating to posts only those they think will be approved by the unionist community is to go along with the Orange Order-style thinking that says it’ll have nothing to do with you/residents’ groups if it doesn’t like the spokesperson you put forwad.
    2. Whatever faults Sinn Fin may have, their policy certain can’t be summarised as “universal blame and exculpation”. On more than one occasion Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams have accepted that as there are victims on all sides, there was wrong-doing on all sides. Hardly amounts to “universal blame and exculpation”.
    3. Sinn Féin’s line on the past, as I read it, is that they are prepared to engage with a truth and reconciliation body that consists of independent members, providing all sides join with them. The British government has shown an outstanding reluctance to become one of the joiners. I wonder why.

    Any political party is fair game for comment or criticism but I do think the comment/criticism should relate more closely to reality.

  • GavBelfast

    Why are Sinn Fein camp-followers so damn precious?

    Why can they not take criticism?

    Why do they not get that that organisation’s entwining with a ruthlessly violent organisation is not something that many others are ever likely to forget, nor be prepared to let THEM forget?

  • Mick Fealty


    Great, as always, to have you on Slugger!!

    I think we need to have a big fat public row about the past. I don’t mean you and I, but out there in the NI public square. It’s been far too mannered and controlled heretofore (that’s not an encouragement to abandon Slugger rules btw, if anyone is thinking of doing it about now) and the people who have had no public seat at that table are the unorganised thousands who suffered directly from their own tragedies.

    One of the things her critics are apt to forget is that Ms Travers is an ordinary Irish citizen- not part of a well resourced victims group – who’s prime motivation is borne directly out seeing her own sister die outside St Bridget’s. If some of her rhetoric is inconsistent, it’s because she’s playing it by gut rather than calculation.

    Yet the amount of abuse hurled at her on Twitter for claiming last week that she was doing it for all victims was all the more incredible for the fact that it was coming from other people who themselves had suffered during the ‘war’. What it uncovers is the rawness of wounds nearly twenty years after the major cessation of violence, and the inability to empathise with someone coming at the issue of how we deal with the past from a third angle.

    I thought Bradley Eames was good fair-minded and decent attempt at dealing with the past comprehensively, but the difficulty that it ran into was precisely that you cannot standardise any means aimed at universalising individual grief and tragedy.

    Nor can you treat it as a commodity to bargained for or sold on someone else’s behalf. I think this is the problem SF is running into. Cillian’s analysis runs wider than the current crisis too, in the sense that he suggests we’ve been too indulgent over party statements on dealing with the past that cannot be qualified in anyway (http://goo.gl/oV6yD).

    It is hard to take seriously a promise to engage with some futured T&C body underwritten by some futured international body at this stage at least even if I do buy the reasons why the likes of McG and Adams cannot speak the truth about their pasts today. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.

    If he has a point worth sustaining it is that past has to be dealt with honestly and openly, and not a campaigning ground for some, whilst being held to be off limits for others.

  • “unless Sinn Féin begins to articulate a vision of politics based on social responsibility rather than craven self-interest, a vision of society based on pluralism, inclusion and accountability rather than universal blame and exculpation then it will continue to run into delusional dead-ends.”

    Obviously those who vote for SF don’t share Cillian’s vision. Why would they change a winning formula?

    Perhaps Cillian has a party-political hand, a hand that is colouring his perspective.

  • son of sam

    “Any political party is fair game for comment or criticism”.Could Fortlands point out where in his own recent blogs ,he has ever criticised Sinn Fein?At least on Slugger,all parties come in for their fair share of criticism!

  • Mick Fealty

    s of s…

    That certainly fits the line that some are arguing: ie, that no one can hit anyone else unless they hit everyone else. Much better (and more democratic) to allow each subject to narrow their focus on their chosen object.

    Then allow the rest of us draw our own independent conclusions.

  • Fortlands

    Mick – I agree completely with your last two lines. Not sure having a barney helps – a degree of detachment might be more called for. That’s why I get uneasy when victims make the running re what should happen.

    S of S : Re lack of attack on SF – I figure good people like yourself (and there are so many of them) will more than make up for any omissions on my part. I think the comments from others that I publish in response to blogs show that. The virulence of some of the comments suggests to me that SF must be doing something right…

  • sherdy

    Mick, – Independent conclusions. You are having a laugh. Is your colour-blindedness only affected by anything resembling green?

  • News_Meister

    Let’s all cut to the core of this issue:-

    1: SPAD is a parisan Bill intended to target former prisoner members of Sinn Fein, given that Loyalist former prisoners don’t really exist in the relevant level of political life.

    2: Despite she had her day in Court against McArdle, the simple truth is that Ann Travers is seeking revenge against the political party connected with a SPAD involved in the shooting her Father and Sister.

    3: SPAD effectively creates a heirarchy of victims in that it grants a British state Judges daughter (and indeed likely other Unionist community victims) a second bite at the revenge-cherry denied to Nationalist/Republican victims of convicted security force killers re-enlisted back into state jobs.

  • Mick Fealty


    The problem SF has in this (though I don’t think this will show in the short term when the SDLP must now expect to take a hell of a beating over its vacillation on the bill) is that during the war the provisionals simply killed far too many people to be able to retain the moral high ground in this area once it goes public.

    The heavy weight of numbers, compared with those killed by the state, are likely to more and more prove of a burden going forward.

    Whilst reassured they face little political challenge in NI, SF may now also expect copycat legislation from some FG or FF bank bencher in the south.

    It’s not the money, but the principle of respect that matters.

    Most of the SpAd’s up to 90k would have ended up in party coffers anyway and presumably available to pay other ex prisoners to other party focused work in Stormont or elsewhere.

    But the sense that they can hold down the northern situation indefinitely in their favour – come what may – has slipped somewhat.


    I share some of that unease (despite impressions to the contrary). In an ideal world, parties should be free to appoint more than just Spads. I also would favour political appointments of Permanent Secretaries/Secretaries General.

    And there must be some ability for people to progress from a conflict situation in a post conflict one in which they can play a full role without necessarily having to get elected.

    In that respect this could be viewed as a step backwards. Yet to quote Cillian again:

    As a party of government, Sinn Féin cannot plausibly continue to pursue ethnicised, particularistic agendas. Until now, its policy seems to be to ‘bank’ concessions in the debate over dealing with the past such as the Maze decision and move forward, drawing on their capital and returns to continually hollow-out the Northern state.

    The cracks show when it speaks to different audiences – praising anti-Thatcher protests or ignoring dissident attacks one day while rolling out Martin McGuinness the next to issue strong condemnations. And the illogicality of its policy is gradually catching up with it as Adams’ recent interview on RTÉ revealed.

    The cracks also show when the party speaks of reconciliation. Reconciliation as set out in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is ill-defined but nevertheless is substantially different from that inherent in Sinn Féin’s policy: where the former is inclusive and premised on the sacrifice of almost 4,000 lives, the later consists in survivors of the conflict reconciling themselves to a republican vision.

    Allister’s bill demonstrates that this government-by-negotiation stratagem has some limitations. How severe remain to be seen. That will depends to a great extent on how well or how badly the SDLP come out of the internal crisis sparked by this debacle.

    I think Fionnuala is slightly premature in describing the current state of the party as ‘eating itself’. There is room for the leader to do some straight talking internally with some of those he trusted by letting them have their head.

    It must ask itself just how come the SDLP messed up so badly and so publicly over an issue that should have been someone else’s crisis. A little bit of self doubt ‘in the here and now’ can take you a long way in the longer run.

    But more on that tomorrow…

  • Barnshee

    ” a heirarchy of victims in that it grants a British state Judges daughter (and indeed likely other Unionist community victims) a second bite at the revenge-cherry”

    So the status of Thomas Begley mass murderer (Shankill bomber) and Sharon McBride victim are equal?

    Use the words innocent and guilty when examining “victimhood”

    ” denied to Nationalist/Republican victims of convicted security force killers re-enlisted back into state jobs.”

    List individuals /jobs please

  • Dixie Elliott

    As a Republican I agree that the Leadership of SF have serious questions regarding the past, especially the Hunger Strikes.

    Not only that but given that we know that there were certain people like Adams and McGuinness who fully intended winding down the war since from at least the time of the Hunger Strikes why did they continue to send volunteers out to kill and die right up to 1994?

    Then of course there is the dirty war of the British and Unionists who actively aided and supported the loyalist killer gangs.

    Both sides have too much buried too deeply to want it dug up again. All the talk about Truth Commissions is nothing but rhetoric as both sides know the other side will never want the truth brought out into the light of day.