Ben Lowry: McElduff and SF have long glorified sectarian murderers

Michelle O'Neill last year addressing a 30th anniversary commemoration for the IRA men killed at Loughgall by the SAS. Also at the commemoration, pictured below O'Neill, is Barry McElduff MP. The IRA gang was implicated in scores of sectarian murders.
Michelle O'Neill last year addressing a 30th anniversary commemoration for the IRA men killed at Loughgall by the SAS. Also at the commemoration, pictured below O'Neill, is Barry McElduff MP. The IRA gang was implicated in scores of sectarian murders.

The controversy over the joke by Barry McElduff MP in which he put a Kingsmill loaf on his head seemed to dampen down a bit on Thursday.

On the BBC TV show the view, John O’Dowd of Sinn Fein was unequivocal in his denunciation of the 1976 republican massacre of 10 Protestant workmen.

McElduff insists he was not making reference to that attack (he has not explained an alternative intention in his joke).

The IRA has not yet admitted it carried out that mass shooting at Kingsmill but even so, Mr O’Dowd’s remarks were a striking departure from the usual Sinn Fein speak, when asked to condemn a murder, of “regretting all deaths”.

Sitting alongside him on The View, Edwin Poots of the DUP also struck a conciliatory note in the discussion.

While the tone of this encounter was welcome, and will have caused some viewers to wonder if an agreement between the parties was in sight again, the McElduff row has flagged up a fundamental division.

Kingsmill was not an isolated atrocity.

It was one in a long list of grievous crimes against civilians by the IRA.

Most of the worst of those attacks were sectarian: Enniskillen, Teebane, Shankill.

Other attacks were recklessly implemented in situations where Protestant civilians were likely to die, such as La Mon, or where the intention to cause maximum economic destruction was such that the bombers did not care whose eye they blinded or leg they blew off or head they severed, such as at the Abercorn or Harrods or across central Belfast on Bloody Friday.

Even beginning to cite the more unpardonable crimes of the IRA is problematic because it opens up such of deep well of barbarism that by citing certain attacks you are seeming to place them above many others, often long forgotten.

But the speed with which the republican campaign is being sanitised means that the atrocities must be recalled.

IRA horrors do already get media attention but latterly this has disproportionately fallen on despicable incidents such as the murder of Jean McConville or on previously unpublicised sexual assaults.

This limited focus then inadvertently enhances the sense that the IRA campaign was largely legitimate but marred by a small number of moments of excess.

And thus, goes the narrative, we need legacy structures that uncover the wrong done by “all sides” – republicans, loyalists, the security forces, as if state and terrorist culpability was roughly comparable.

Kingsmill is now being pushed into that small category of IRA errors or excesses. Other IRA massacres are being partly blamed on the security forces, for supposedly having known enough to support them – but having failed to do so.

Sinn Fein has never been foolish enough to glorify the most dastardly IRA crimes, but instead it celebrates the perpetrators.

Hence the determination to name a play park after Raymond McCreesh.

Last year, in a stark denial that killers have agency, Michelle O’Neill said at a commemoration of the IRA gang (shot by the SAS at Loughgall as they attempted another murderous attack) that “the war came to them”.

It is well known that the worst and most hardened members of this group were behind at least 50 murders of mostly Protestants in border areas, placing them among the most prolific killers in Europe since the Second World War. Despite being well known to the authorities, they were so accomplished in their murders that the authorities were unable to detain and convict and stop them until the 1987 ambush.

For all the supposed brutality of the security forces and for all their supposed collusion with loyalists, the Loughgall and many other terrorists were able to roam the countryside killing people.

When the heat was on the killers, they fled across the border where the Irish authorities hid behind every legal technicality they could so as not to extradite them north.

It is one of the great scandals and failures of modern politics that London is now so desperate to apply sticking plasters to the political wreckage in Northern Ireland, and that unionists are now so defeatist, and that the people of the Province are so forgiving and decent and disinclined to rake over the past, that the political heirs of the IRA have been able to cite legacy as a demand for the return of devolution.

The simplest critique of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement is that we have ended up in a situation in which the IRA is confident that the legacy structures proposed in that deal will vindicate its terrorism.

In particular it wants the legacy inquests into deaths at the hands of the state to soak up a disproportionate amount of the taxpayer funding allocated to legacy.

Among the dozens of terrorist deaths that will get special scrutiny in those inquests is the Loughgall murder gang.

No SAS man involved in that legitimate security response to a fanatical terrorist unit will be able to sleep easily until those inquests are over and/if the threat of an adverse verdict and subsequent criminal investigation is averted.

When Ms O’Neill, who scolds and lectures unionists about equality and respect, portrayed those savagely sectarian killers as victims, Mr McElduff was standing beside her.

If Britain and unionists had any sense of confidence and solidarity, they would have some red lines of their own, instead of always scrambling in response to Sinn Fein ones.

One such red line would be that if the state killing of mass murderers is to get detailed scrutiny, then each of the terrorist murders they carried out will get the same scrutiny. And that unionists won’t share power with those who glorify those who perpetrate atrocities.