SINN Fein was yesterday accused of creating a “hierarchy of victims” after it tried to justify apologising for the IRA murder of Garda Jerry McCabe while declining to do so for security force members killed in Northern Ireland.
The row has broken out after Garda Adrian Donohoe was shot dead during an armed robbery in the constituency of Sinn Fein president and Co Louth TD Gerry Adams last Friday night.
Mr Adams later issued condolences to the family of Mr Donohoe and also took the opportunity to apologise for the IRA murder of Garda McCabe 17 years ago. However, he then faced a storm of demands that he offer the same apology for IRA murders of police officers in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin came out on Wednesday evening to try and differentiate between people the IRA murdered in the Republic and those whose lives it took in Northern Ireland.
“The circumstances in which gardai and other members of the state forces lost their lives in the South during the course of the conflict were vastly different to what went on in the North during that period,” he said.
“There were fatalities and injuries inflicted on all sides by all participants to the conflict. All of us must acknowledge that grief and that suffering equally. There can be no hierarchy of victims.”
UUP justice spokesman Tom Elliott said it was not that long ago that Sinn Fein was justifying all murders “but now that seems to be changing”.
He said: “I find it astounding that they can say that the situation was vastly different in the Republic of Ireland to that in Northern Ireland. How can they say that? Murder is murder. They are trying to create a hierarchy of victims.
“This is a revictimisation of the families of all those whose loved ones were murdered by the IRA. How can Gerry Adams express sympathy for the family of Garda Jerry McCabe but not for murdered security force members in Northern Ireland?”
Fianna Fail justice spokesperson Niall Collins said: “In response to requests for a similar apology for the murder of some 273 police officers in the North at the hands of the Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein moved quickly to dismiss the idea, claiming that the murder of a policeman in one part of the country was ‘vastly different’ to the murder of a policeman in another part of the country.
“The entire country is united this week in its grief and anger at the murder of one of our police. That grief and anger is unconditional and it is a source of regret that Sinn Fein could still not find it within itself to simply condemn and apologise for a long list of such crimes over an extended period.”
SDLP policing spokesperson Conall McDevitt said: “Sinn Fein keeps telling us they want to build reconciliation but yet refuse to acknowledge that truth and reconciliation are two sides of the same coin. You cannot build a reconciled society on historic revisionism and retrospective justification of indefensible acts.
“It is frankly sickening that Sinn Fein would now seek to make a differentiation between the murder of a garda and that of an RUC officer.”
Also yesterday, Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney was challenged on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster as to why Sinn Fein would not apologise to RUC widows as Mr Adams had done for Irish police in the Irish parliament.
He said that “the circumstances in which gardai and defence forces were killed in the course of the armed conflict were completely different to what went on in the North during the same period and terrible things happened in the six counties during the course of the political conflict”.
To protests from the presenter that he was not answering the question, he called for discussion about “how we deal with the legacy of the past – and that is going to need real engagement from all parties”. Mr Kearney was speaking as he released a fresh statement calling on unionist leaders to engage in reconciliation.
But DUP MLA Arlene Foster said the comments expose “just how hollow Sinn Fein’s reconciliation calls actually are”. She said: “Declan Kearney appears to be as removed from reality as Gerry Adams with these attempts to differentiate between murders on different sides of a border which Sinn Fein claims not to recognise. Those who serve their community as police officers are no different whether it is in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.
“Similarly, the murder of anyone who stepped forward to serve their community and uphold the rule of law is equally wrong whether it took place in Northern Ireland or in the Republic.”