This week saw Mitchell McLaughlin elected as Speaker of the Assembly. The News Letter pointed to his previous comments refusing to accept that the murder of Jean McConville was a crime.
Leaving aside McLaughlin personally there is a certain symbolism in a Sinn Fein speaker being elected just a week before the 34th anniversary of the murder of the old Stormont speaker Sir Norman Stronge. Sir Norman was born in 1894 and fought at the Somme. His election as speaker was seconded by the openly nationalist NI Labour Party MP Jack Beattie. Sir Norman was murdered at the age of 86 along with his eldest son on 21st January 1981 and their house (Tynan Abbey) was burned down. At the time Gerry Adams stated: “The only complaint I have heard from nationalists or anti-unionists is that he was not shot 40 years ago”.
When asked by Jim Allister whether Sir Norman’s murder was a crime McLaughlin stated: “Do not abuse procedures or I will respond appropriately.”
It might be worth thinking on whether a supporter of the IRA’s murder campaign sitting in Sir Norman’s old chair represents success or failure for them. For the DUP though the hypocrisy seems even richer both from their comments in 1981 and more recently: Supposed arch opponent of Sinn Fein Gregory Campbell spoke in favour of McLaughlin’s appointment stating: “Today they are moving in the right direction and we again acknowledge that in both word and deed.”
It is interesting to consider, in this election year, whether Campbell will play more on those comments or last year’s about “Curried Yoghurt” or treating an Irish Language Act as toilet paper. At the time of the toilet paper comments Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd claimed these comments challenged the integrity of the talks.
One is left wondering if Campbell’s hard line stance then was simply to distract from criticism of a plan for him to be DUP cheerleader in chief for McLaughlin’s election: remember it was McLaughlin who censured Campbell after the “Curry my Yoghurt” comment. Maybe unionists are being played for fools in a game of charades. Then again for Sinn Fein supporters who were told for so long there would be no partitionist settlement it is unclear whether McLaughlin sitting on Sir Norman’s seat represents a victory or a U turn. A much more recent U turn is that today we learn that Martin McGuinness now supports an opposition at Stormont.
Maybe then not unionists but everyone in Northern Ireland is being regarded as having the memory of goldfish. If one believed in ghosts it would be just to hope that Sir Norman’s would haunt both McLaughlin and Campbell.