No alternative to violence?
No alternative to violence?
Should we in the unionist community feel some sympathy for Michelle O’Neill who said, in an interview last week, that “at that time there was no alternative” to IRA members using violence?
It would have been very hard for her to say otherwise.
She was speaking as Sinn Féin vice-president and as a relative of those involved in IRA violence. She is a leader in an organisation that has seen many young men sacrifice their lives in hunger strikes and in armed actions for their beliefs, she represents their supporters and their families. Republicans would argue that expecting her to say otherwise is expecting too much.
However, she is also a future First Minister for all the people of Northern Ireland – unionist, republican and other.
All of us are on a journey of change. When I attended QUB in 1978, I had no real understanding of the republican experience of Northern Ireland but having found the opportunity to listen to those who had different experiences, it was clear that my understanding of my country was at best incomplete. It was possible to understand, even coming from a unionist background, how young men could believe, back then, that a violent response to injustice was a short cut to a peaceful and fair society.
No-one expects Michelle O’Neill to abandon those who, in good faith, believed they were doing their best for their communities. We will not be surprised to hear her say that the IRA members of the 1970s and 1980s “believed that there was no alternative to violence”. We know and accept this.
However, what Michelle said is very different. She is saying that the IRA were right to murder our policemen, to kill the cleaners, canteen staff and builders who took jobs at police and army bases from 1974 to 1998. If she does not understand the subtle difference and realise the incendiary effect of her statement on even the most moderate unionists, she needs to talk to more of us.
Remarks have to be taken in totality and indeed context
T he recent furore regarding the comments Michelle O’Neill made about violence – as part of the Red Lines interview series with Mark Carruthers – have to be taken in totality and indeed context. Ms O’Neill spoke openly about her influences, experiences and also inspirations. She talked about herself as “an ordinary person born into extraordinary circumstances” and about coming into and being part of “a society which was actively discriminating against Catholics”. The wide-ranging interview was about her lived experiences, her story, her past, and her observations about this society and the conditions which she came into and witnessed. The comments she made about resistance and violence in the context of here were: “I think at the time there was no alternative. But now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that is the Good Friday Agreement and that’s why it’s so precious to us all.”
Those that are being critical are the usual suspects – including the individuals who don’t want the woman as First Minister – and there are more reasons apart from her recent comments – and those who are extremely selective about ignoring state violence and state murder. As Ms O’Neill also outlines during her interview: “I think the only way we’re ever going to build a better future is actually to understand that it’s okay to have a different take on the past.”
As regards context – UN resolution 37/43, December 3 1982, “reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle”.
Grotesque attempt to re-write history
To argue, as Michelle O’Neill has done, that the Provisional IRA’s bloody campaign was justifiable and unavoidable is not only untrue, it is yet another grotesque attempt by Sinn Féin to rewrite history.
Unfortunately, that is a project that has brought them some reward. Such is the ‘green washing’ of the period of the Troubles that today, 25 years after they ended, a generation of young nationalists, who knew nothing of their terror blithely chant pro-IRA slogans as they play out their odious tribal rituals.
Michelle O’Neill and the Sinn Féin machine knows exactly what they are doing when they glorify three decades of atrocities, sectarianism and barbarity. They are playing to their own gallery, consolidating the lowest denominator in their support base and, using very specifically tailored language, constructing a counterfeit history in which everyone else is to blame.
It is worth remembering that the Provos were no friends of the Civil Rights campaign. They opposed it, they attacked it, they condemned it. But they did not support it. Nor did they support the efforts of all those who were working for a better and more democratic society. They rejected the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 only to, eventually, sign up to the Good Friday Agreement 25 years and 3,500 deaths later.
The only inevitability about the IRA’s actions was that, like all forms of militant nationalism, British and Irish, they will always revert to the elitism of violence rather than join with others in a united approach to tackling the injustices of society.
Workers’ Party, Mid-Ulster
Ridiculous comments show Sinn Féin in true light
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill’s recent ridiculous comments that there was “no alternative” to 30 years of IRA violence shows her party in its true light. Was there really ‘no alternative’ to plant bombs in two Birmingham pubs in 1974 and murder 21 people; to incinerate 12 civilians at the La Mon restaurant in 1978; to gun down 22-year-old Mary Travers in cold blood in 1984; to kidnap, brutally torture and murder a Co Louth farmer in 1991?
Sinn Féin still contains within its ranks members who brazenly carried out deeds of pure evil on behalf of the Irish people. That Sinn Féin is now so successful in electoral terms is a damning indictment of those who so easily and conveniently forget the many murders carried out. Many people who vote for this party will, for example, be horrified by the more recent Manchester Arena bombings but see nothing wrong with voting for a party which has supported similar outrages carried out by the Provos over a period of 30 years.
Bishopstown, Co Cork