Ireland

Sinn Fein ‘cannot ride two horses’ when it comes to NI’s troubled past – Martin

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he did not believe the Sinn Fein MP should attend the event (Niall Carson/PA)
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he did not believe the Sinn Fein MP should attend the event (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein “cannot ride two horses” when it comes to Northern Ireland’s troubled past, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister has said.

Micheal Martin said he supports asking questions of British Army or police actions, but said on the other hand that Sinn Fein “isn’t really doing anything” to secure answers around the actions of the Provisional IRA.

The Tanaiste was commenting amid a row around the planned attendance of Sinn Fein MP John Finucane at an event billed as the South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration at the weekend.

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Victims’ representatives have contended the event will commemorate the actions of the IRA during the Troubles.

Mr Martin said he did not believe Mr Finucane should attend the event.

He said he had met victims of the security forces, the IRA and of loyalists, adding they all wanted information.

“They don’t get it from the Provisional IRA, they don’t get it from Sinn Fein. I think the idea of endeavouring to, in some shape or form, celebrate or glorify horrible deeds of the past is not the way forward,” he said.

“It’s something that Sinn Fein need to deal with and because some heinous crimes were carried out by units right across Northern Ireland by the Provisional IRA, which were not justifiable, which did a lot of harm to many victims.

“And if we want the victim-focused legacy process, then Sinn Fein needs to ask itself some hard questions and needs to deal with this once and for all, because they can’t ride two horses in relation to this, in terms of on the one hand looking at legacy actions by the British Army or the RUC, but on the other hand not really doing anything to make sure that we have some degree of detail in terms of horrendous attacks carried out by the Provisional IRA.

“That’s something that in terms of the future of Northern Ireland that has to be addressed.”

Earlier, former Northern Ireland first minister Baroness Arlene Foster said the attendance of senior members of Sinn Fein at “glorifying events” resulted in the normalisation of violence.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said all parties had attended commemorative events and that the occasion in question had been taking place for more than a decade with little controversy.

Dame Arlene Foster
Dame Arlene Foster was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

He also said that the focus on Mr Finucane’s attendance at the event was “distraction politics” from the DUP, as they continued to boycott powersharing institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Lady Foster gave evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday on the effectiveness of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

She said the attendance of politicians at commemorative events sent an “alarming message” to young people.

“We’re still struggling with legacy today, and when I see people continuing to glorify some of the things that happened in the ’70s and ’80s today, it’s not just about the past, and it’s not just about remembering our dead,” she told the MPs.

“It is actually about sending a message to young people today, that what happened in the past was OK, and what happened in the past was somehow justified, and it wasn’t justified.

“And whether you are a loyalist paramilitary or republican paramilitary, taking up arms is always wrong, and therefore I do get very concerned when senior members of Sinn Fein are involved in glorifying events, as we know is going to happen very soon.

Alliance MLA warns
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, right, said all parties had attended commemorative events (David Young/PA)

“And I think it sends a really difficult message to law-abiding citizens right across Northern Ireland, and sends for me an alarming message to young people in Northern Ireland.

“And we talk about reconciliation … and the difficult conversations about reconciliation still need to happen in Northern Ireland, and when you see that sort of thing happening, with a Sinn Fein MP going to a glorification – a ‘family fun day’ – it’s wrong, and it has to be called out.”

Lady Foster’s father, an RUC reservist, was shot and severely injured by the IRA when she was a child, and in her teenage years she survived a bomb that exploded under her school bus which was being driven by a part-time UDR soldier.

“I hope that in any talks or negotiations, which I won’t be involved in, I hope there is a strong focus on not sending negative messages to the past, to the future, which result in violence, which results in the normalisation of violence and results in people thinking it’s OK to come up and say to a victim ‘Ooh, ah, up the ‘Ra’,” she said, referring to a divisive sectarian chant.

“That’s wrong, and I think we really have a problem around the glorification of terrorism in Northern Ireland, and we can ignore it and it will continue, or we can deal with it.”

Other Sinn Fein politicians, including party leader Michelle O’Neill, have been criticised for attending commemorative events relating to the IRA.

Lady Foster said she would be equally critical of a unionist politician attending an event commemorating a loyalist paramilitary group.

“I have said that very, very clearly – if a member of the Democratic Unionist Party was going along to honour UVF volunteers, I would be equally as outraged as I am about a member of Sinn Fein going along to honour IRA volunteers; it is wrong.

“Now people will say ‘Oh, you met somebody from the UVF in the past’. Yes, I also met somebody from the IRA in the past – doesn’t mean that I’m glorifying what they did.

“Because, let me say this, loyalist paramilitaries are weighing down heavily on loyalist communities in Belfast in particular at the moment, and using power to control those areas and those young people in a horrific way.

“Therefore, glorifying these people, whether they’re from the loyalist community or whether they’re from the republican community, is wrong and we have to break that cycle.”

Speaking after meeting the Tanaiste in Belfast, Mr Murphy insisted: “All parties here have attended commemorative events.

“Every single party has attended commemorative events, be that British Army ones, be that in Dublin at the 1916 Rising … all parties have been involved with commemorative events over the last 30 years.

“Everybody has the right and that recognises the fact that everybody has the right to commemorate their dead in a dignified way, and we support everyone’s right to commemorate their dead in a dignified way.”

Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister challenged Sinn Fein over Mr Finucane’s planned attendance at the South Armagh event, saying the party should reflect on the impact it would have on victims.

“I think, to be honest, there’s a mistake here made by Sinn Fein … particularly whenever we talk about commemorating our dead or reflecting on the past, it’s important that we do not glorify terrorism,” she said.

“That’s the reality that we are seeing this coming weekend. Those families and victims of any atrocities in our past don’t want to see that repeated, but they don’t also want to see that their loved ones’ lives that were affected or lost are now in this state of glorification of terrorism.

“So, yes, I think Sinn Fein should reflect and perhaps they should see what they are doing as causing harm to victims.”

Alliance MLA warns
UUP leader Doug Beattie said everybody had a right to remember their dead but ‘must do it in a respectful way’ (David Young/PA)

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also meeting Mr Martin in Belfast, described the commemoration in Armagh as “scandalous”.

“It’s not distraction politics,” he said.

“Everybody absolutely has a right to remember their dead, but they must do it in a respectful way. That respectful way should not be hurtful for those who have given the most – that is the victims who lost loved ones during the Troubles.

“And this commemoration, which is being run like a family fun day for South Armagh volunteers who murdered people purely because of their religion and for other reasons, I think it is scandalous.

“And there’s absolutely no way that Michelle O’Neill can say that this is down to people’s different perspectives of the troubled past.

“To go out and murder 10 men at Kingsmill because they were Protestant is not about people’s perceptions of the past. It was sectarian murder and we need to remember that.”