Dean Bonner is Law graduate and current Public Policy Masters student. Here he argues that it is not enough to hide behind platitudes about there being no hierarchies of victims, there must also be no hierarchies for murderers either.
A certain statement has been uttered so many times by our elected representatives that it’s almost become a cliché: that there can be no hierarchy of victims. It has regularly emitted from the ranks of Sinn Féin. Mary-Lou McDonald said it during a speech at the University of Liverpool, where she also stated that it was her duty to “meet with those hurt and bereaved by Republicans.” Michelle O’Neill trumpeted the line when criticised for speaking at an event to commemorate the IRA members shot dead at Loughgall as they tried to blow up an RUC station. The statement suggests that Sinn Féin believe the grief of everybody affected by the Troubles must be respected.
If they do believe that, then why is it acceptable for David Cullinane to shout “UP THE ‘RA” when he is elected as TD for Waterford in 2020? Why is it acceptable for the party to share a video in 2021 that commemorates a man who was part of a gang that burned a 26-year-old mother of three alive? Why is it acceptable for former leader Gerry Adams to star in a video last week, where his co-star utters the line “they haven’t gone away, you know”? “All proceeds to charity” doesn’t cut the mustard.
You see, by glorifying the IRA or having a cheap laugh at the fact they existed via lines such as the above, Sinn Féin are creating a hierarchy of victims. How? Because in shouting “UP THE RA”, in reminding us of what they said about the ‘RA 26 years ago, and by celebrating their cherished “volunteers” who were involved in blowing civilians to pieces or burning them alive, they are implying that IRA murderers were somehow more virtuous than those from “the other side”, and thus that their actions and the deaths they led to were not as abhorrent.
By creating a hierarchy of murderers, you therefore create a hierarchy of victims. What’s more, you kick everybody who’s been bereaved or left disabled for life by the Provisional IRA (and by later iterations of “the RA”) in the teeth, whether you intend to or not. Also, in doing so, you waive the right to lash out at loyalists and security forces for the murdering they engaged in.
It’s time Sinn Féin accepted that every single murder conducted during the Troubles was wrong. Every single murder was an unjustifiable disgrace. The McGurk’s bar bombing, the Miami Showband massacre and the Greysteel massacre were unjustifiable disgraces. Ballymurphy, Bloody Sunday and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings were unjustifiable disgraces. And, the Claudy bombing, La Mon bombing, and Shankill bombings were unjustifiable disgraces. End of story.
That brings me to Unionism. Many unionist representatives are the first to call out Sinn Féin for the kind of shite highlighted above. Yet, the DUP and TUV are happy to meet with, listen to and entertain the ravings of loyalist paramilitaries in the guise of the Loyalist Communities Council (which represents the UVF and UDA among others). They’re happy to beatify the British army in all its forms and to exalt loyalist bandsmen who march wearing Parachute Regiment regalia. And they’re happy to wax lyrical about the evils of the IRA as if nobody but the IRA murdered anybody during the Troubles.
Of course, it’s fair to assert that republican paramilitaries killed more people during the Troubles than anybody else. But that doesn’t make murders by loyalist paramilitaries, the B-Specials, the Glenanne Gang, the Paratroopers and such any less abhorrent. Murder is murder, whether it was done by a fella in a balaclava or by a fella in British security forces uniform, and whether it was part of the “armed struggle” or “for God and Ulster.”
If the parties here can’t bring themselves to call a spade a spade when it comes to murder during the Troubles, maybe they could at least stop glorifying and giving credence to those who did the murdering or who represent those who did, be they the IRA, the Loyalist Communities Council, or the Parachute Regiment.
As Boris’ baleful, bumbling government push through their legacy plans (premised on protecting British veterans who may have murdered civilians in the North and thus based on their own hierarchy of murderers), we must acknowledge that every life taken, no matter who took it and why, was wrong and that everybody bereaved, blinded and blown to pieces during the Troubles must be treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect.
By creating hierarchies of victims and murderers, we splinter the united front that we need to show as the Tories deliver their latest “feck you lot” to the people of Ireland of all backgrounds.
Nollaig shona daoibh
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.