Northern Ireland

Analysis: Sinn Féin’s ‘apology for all’ leaves a suspicion that words about reconciliation and tolerance are merely lip service

Kenova package
Freddie Scappaticci (extreme left of picture/side faced) pictured at the 1988 funeral of IRA man Brendan Davison.

There was little expectation that Operation Kenova would provide substantive fresh information and insights into what was known as the ‘Dirty War’, let alone prosecutions. Its value - though arguably not £40m worth - lies in its status as an official investigation. It confirms and reinforces what many have suspected for decades – that British intelligence lost its moral and legal compass completely, sacrificing people’s lives to protect sources and guard intelligence.

The report’s focus on the activities of the Provisional IRA is equally unedifying. The contempt with which informers were held within the Republican movement blinded many to the possibility that those held in esteem and most feared could themselves be working for the other side.

The response from both sides so far seems inadequate. The British government is using the report’s interim status as cover for saying nothing. The assumption that one day they will come clean and provide a truthful account of the murky world of intelligence-gathering and running informers is at best naive.

Michelle O’Neill
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

Any expectation that republicans will tell all is equally misguided. While much closer to the community that bore the brunt of the conflict, 30 years after the curtain came down on hostilities, there are still incidents and episodes that could damage both individual and organisational reputations.

Republicans appear content to see the spotlight continue to be focused on the security forces yet when it comes to their past activities there’s a desire to move on. This approach is encapsulated in Michelle O’Neill’s characterisation of herself as representing the “Good Friday Agreement generation”, a generation born into conflict but seeking to build the peace.

It’s effectively a jettisoning of the IRA and its campaign of violence, a strategy that is designed to assure voters, especially in the Republic, that Sinn Féin is committed to constitutional politics. This approach also seeks to ensure that the modern party is is no longer regarded as in any way answerable for the deeds of the IRA.

Both the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill used the platform of the Kenova report to say sorry. However, rather than drawing a line under matters, as such gestures are designed to do, their unspecified apology to all victims surely only serves to dilute the value of their words? When called upon to apologise to those killed by Stakeknife, the head of the IRA’s so-called nutting squad, both chose the widest possible cohort, which perversely includes killings by loyalists and the British Army, as well as those of the IRA. The First Minister’s words merely echoed what she said in the assembly chamber last month.

Failure to accept any responsibility for numerous deaths and the continued suffering of the families left behind, albeit by association, will only leave a lingering suspicion that words about reconciliation and tolerance are merely lip service.