deputy First Minister tells Oxford Union the IRA could have murdered ‘thousands’…

Though justice be thy plea, consider this-
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy

ByWilliam Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

I’m never sure why Sinn Fein wants to focus so resolutely on the past rather than, in the jargon, ‘enlarging the shadow of the future’. It’s never been as strong a card for them as they seem to imagine, since they as an organisation attached to the Provisional IRA were the most professional (and prolific) killing machine of the entire Troubles.

At 1700 killings, the IRA topped the murder league for the entirely period of the Troubles. And yet, speaking in Oxford last night, the deputy First Minister told an audience that the IRA could “have killed thousands on the streets of London and in Northern Ireland”.

Well, unless he just means rounding it up to an even 2000, that’s at the very best a moot point.

From 1987, when the IRA leadership was apparently preparing for a final ‘Tet’ like military offensive, not only did the increasing violence not happen in some places the IRA found itself on the decidedly wrong end of a major military counteroffensive from both state and officially outlawed non state forces.

Missions began misfiring. Most notably in east Tyrone, south Derry and north Armagh, where the local UVF (which had been pretty useless in targeting active Provisionals) suddenly started getting lucky with both military targets and civilians close to the local IRA hierarchy.

In the inquest of the brutal murder of 74 year old Rose Ann Mallon yesterday, there was apparently unambiguous evidence of collusion between British security forces and the local UVF. Mallon was not the only Republican civilian to be killed by the UVF at this time.

Kathleen O’Hagan was seven months pregnant when she was gunned down. Patrick Shields and his son Diarmuid (according to Moloney, Diarmuid’s girlfriend committed suicide within a month of his assassination) were all civilians and socially close to local provisionals.In the case of Shields senior, in a way that would not have been broadly known to outsiders.

This runs against the longer term pattern of the long war in which paramilitaries either found it difficult or inconvenient to to target one another. So you have to ask how such level of detail got into the hands of the UVF if not from information passed to them via the security forces from sources inside the IRA?

And at this time, before during and after the IRA had planned its big push, Ed Moloney estimates that of 83 people killed, 40 fell victim to the UVF in this mid Ulster area. The evidence is that far from doubling or tripling its kill rate, the IRA was in fact being slowly curtailed through intelligence and  collaboration with key actors inside the IRA itself.

A few years ago, Alex Evans posted this paraphrasing of a conversation he’d had with a retired British colonel from the Paras in Geneva back in 1995:

…the struggle in Northern Ireland cost the United Kingdom three thousand casualties in dead alone. Of the three thousand, about seventeen hundred were civilians….of the remaining, a thousand were British soldiers. No more than three hundred were terrorists, a ratio of three to one.

Speaking very softly, he said: And that is why we are still there.[emphasis added]

Mark Hennessey notes that McGuinness also “insisted that civilians died where the IRA made “huge mistakes” in operations that went wrong, but they had not been deliberately targeted”.

A natural cynic might also add, ‘like the Paras at Ballymurphy, or in Derry, perhaps Martin?’

In a post conflict world, mercy and compassion for the many victims of both state and anti state violence might serve us better  AND take us further than idly boasting about how much worse we all might been…

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

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