Do we really need to bring up Sinn Féin’s ugly past all the time, Douglas?

While skimming through The Spectator this week, I noticed Douglas Murray was deriding Owen Jones for his appearance at Sinn Féin’s Summer school. The overarching theme was the far Left are always on board with violence and Jones’ presence in Cork was all the more reproachable because ‘there is no political party in Europe as bad as Sinn Féin.’

The questionable and more importantly, provocative nature of these remarks, especially the latter, led me to believe that Murray’s understanding of the Troubles was somewhat novel. It seemed a thoroughly, uneducated foray into a immensely complicated issue. Yet to my complete surprise, Murray has written a critically acclaimed account of Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry, which suggests his knowledge of Ulster’s history is somewhat more profound than his comments indicate. I mean to claim there’s no party in Europe as bad as Sinn Féin is as wild as it is outrageous. It’s not as if Gerry Adam’s lot are operating on the margins of politics like the BNP, Greece’s Golden Dawn or Hungary’s Jobbik, this is a party which recorded almost 500,000 votes in the last European elections. What’s more, it’s at the heart of government in one jurisdiction and on the brink of even greater success in Dublin next year. Surely, this is evidence enough to show that Sinn Féin are far from the political extremists that Murray attempts to convey.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no apologist for Sinn Féin or the Left and some of the criticisms that Murray levels at Sinn Féin are well founded. The high profile case of Jean McConville is an aberration of justice as are the indiscriminate murders the IRA committed against innocent civilians across England and Ireland. Yet as we all know, this was a dirty war, in which despicable atrocities were committed by all sides. Given that Murray closely followed the Saville Inquiry, it makes it even more reprehensible of him to aimlessly pursue such a subjective agenda against Sinn Féin.

Having said this, no one can deny that the Far Left has been tied up with political violence in the past. Controversial figures like Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway are well known supporters of isolated groups and states like Hezbollah, Iran, Venezuela and even Hamas who have all enlisted violence to further their political ambitions. Of course, they both support Irish unity too and herein lies the problem.

Irish republicanism has become readily associated with revolutionary ideals, violent movements and radical politicians, which means it’s become quickly discredited in the minds of more moderate souls. Instead of being viewed as a principle which wishes to secure Irish self-determination, it has become an ignominious byword for sectarianism and terror. While the reality may be somewhat different, the narrative is dictated by circumstances and media driven impressions and Murray is guilty of buying into them.

The IRA may have been destructive, terrorised communities and killed more people than any other group during the Troubles. Elements of their leadership may now be presiding over Sinn Féin’s future course. Yet this is a party that retains strong links to the American Government, has accepted British sovereignty in Northern Ireland and is now pursuing exclusively political means to acheive a united Ireland. The last time I checked Hamas and Hezbollah weren’t ticking any of those boxes in their respective polities. And Douglas, just for the record, the IRA may have ripped apart many lives but to say that without the campaign of violence, we would have arrived at the same settlement is historically inexcusable. Didn’t Seamus Mallon say something about the GFA being ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’? Though you may disagree, I believe the path to violence was paved by Unionist intransigence, not by Republican bloodshed.

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