Those who exempt themselves from the taboo against killing will come to see themselves as special. And so it has been with ‘the Republican Movement’ (the term that Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA have used to describe themselves collectively, while denying, when it suits, that any collectivity exists).
Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, does not take criticism well. It sees itself as ‘special’, and above criticism. During the 1990s it virtually invented the word ‘demonize’ by complaining bitterly that it was being ‘demonized’ every time it was merely criticized.
It has emerged in the past couple of weeks that a victim of rape and sexual abuse inflicted by a prominent IRA man was subjected to an IRA ‘kangaroo court’, and that sexual abusers within the IRA were moved across the border, into the Republic, by that organization (while remaining active members in some instances).
This illustrates a problem that ‘the Republican Movement’ now has (I use the quote marks as I don’t see it as truly republican – in particular, its human rights record is abysmal). It evolved as a one-issue organization, dedicated to abolishing partition and establishing a united Ireland. It saw all means as fair in attempting to achieve this, and its supporters have always done likewise, giving a well-rehearsed litany of justifications at every opportunity and seeing the movement’s atrocities as counterproductive at worst. In this black-and-white world, the Provisional IRA was ‘right’ by definition, or certainly never so wrong that support for it needed to be reconsidered.
However, human life consists of far more than a single issue. As we have seen, IRA members have committed crimes unrelated to ‘the armed struggle’ – sexual crimes, for instance. Furthermore, since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, several entirely innocent people have been brutally murdered by members of the supposedly wound-up Provisional IRA – on a least a couple of occasions over a personal disagreement with an IRA member – and have been smeared as criminals after the event.
These are matters that need to be addressed honestly by representatives of Sinn Féin, but, as usual, those people have claimed that their organization is being persecuted and have gone into full ‘lie and deny’ mode. While their leader still claims never to have been a member of the IRA, their credibility rating will remain extremely low.
If they are to succeed in distancing themselves from their tainted past, a whole new approach, based on honesty and accountability, will be needed. But Sinn Féin’s strategy so far has been to hope that a new approach won’t be needed – that their vote will continually creep up as they focus on community issues, leftist sloganeering and knee-jerk denialism, and as the Troubles recede in the collective memory.
If they were to succeed in entering government in the Republic of Ireland on this basis, it would be a travesty and a tragedy for this country, in my opinion.