Opinion

Sinn Fein rhetoric not unlike Orange excuses

SINN Fein has invoked the ascendant logic of shared space, as opposed to neutral space, for its 'Tyrone volunteers day' IRA memorial parade. The parade, planned for August 11, will "emanate from a nationalist area" of Castlederg and "go through the Diamond, which is a shared space and we are sensitive to that", Sinn Fein MLA Declan McAleer said. So what is Sinn Fein's view of shared space? That appears to depend on who wants to share. In May this year Sinn Fein objected to plans for an Orange Order prayer service in Portadown's People's Park, which is set to receive a £7 million upgrade on the grounds of being a 'shared space'. "The Orange Order must recognise that they do not have a positive relationship with the nationalist residents of Portadown," Sinn Fein council group leader Johnny McGibbon said. "Shared space does not mean abused space". As the IRA lacks a positive relationship with the unionist residents of Castlederg, an IRA parade through that town's shared space is also presumably abusive. Councillor McGibbon correctly pointed out that the Portadown prayer service was, by the Orange Order's own admission, intended to "test" Craigavon Borough Council's commitment to shared space. This was considered so cynical that two unionist councillors voted against the Orange Order while the Alliance got caught in a logical loop and voted for. What has not been pointed out is that Tyrone volunteers day is also intended to test shared space - and not just in Castlederg. Last year Sinn Fein's 'Tyrone commemoration committee' decided to rotate the event around the county on an annual basis. Until now it has always been held in Galbally. This rotation is "in line with the template of the annual national hunger strike commemoration," Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff grandly declared. It is also in line with the template of Orange Order county demonstrations. What moving the IRA parade around seems intended to test is how many Orange and unionist excuses Sinn Fein can apply to itself. Already in Castlederg we have heard Sinn Fein representatives highlight the 20 loyalist parades through the town, as if two wrongs make a right and Sinn Fein has not been complaining about the loyalist parades for years. Sinn Fein has insisted that "everyone has a right to honour their dead", yet it did not accept this argument when it was used by unionists to justify RIR homecoming parades in 2008 and 2011.

Ironically, the West Tyrone Sinn Fein cumann behind Tyrone Volunteers Day called for protests against the RIR parades. Sinn Fein has repeatedly mentioned that Castlederg is "two-thirds nationalist", although the party was quite clear that being two-thirds unionist did not entitle Lisburn to an RIR parade or Portadown to an Orange Order prayer service.

In fact, Sinn Fein cited the minority status of nationalists in both towns as a reason why their shared spaces should not suffer unionist "acts of domination".

Finally, just hours before a Parades Commission ruling on Castlederg, Sinn Fein moved its parade route away from the town's cenotaph and Methodist church. Nobody is fooled when the Orange Order spins similar 'restrictions' on itself so it was rather pathetic to see Sinn Fein apologists rushing to fool themselves. Sinn Fein acts of domination in town centres throw up the additional problem that these spaces are only available for sharing because they lost their resident populations during the Troubles, primarily due to an IRA bombing campaign that invariably caused casualties. It is difficult to march an IRA parade through any town centre without passing the scene of an IRA killing, generally of a blameless civilian. Requiring anyone who objects to live directly along the route, as Sinn Fein has done with a strict town centre 'residency test' for dialogue in Castlederg, goes beyond honouring IRA bombers to honouring IRA bombs. This is indistinguishable from the 'coat trailing' and 'triumphalism' Sinn Fein is so quick to condemn in others. Criticising the Orange Order prayer service stunt in Portadown, Sinn Fein councillor McGibbon said the correct alternative was a "cross community event arranged by the council". Why is this not the correct approach to commemoration in the shared spaces of Co Tyrone, where republicans and nationalists control every council? Is it precisely because of that control that Sinn Fein sees no need for alternatives? In terms of number of parades Sinn Fein may never be as bad as the Orange Order but in Castlederg it has shown that it is just as bad in principle. newton@irishnews.com

? SPACES: Barry McElduff and others in Sinn Fein have been defending the route of an IRA memorial parade through Castlederg in Co Tyrone

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