After Saturday’s murderous attempt on the lives of PSNI officers, John O’Dowd posted a statement on his Facebook page condemning the near atrocity.
Most of the Sinn Fein MLA’s words were a model of reasonableness and an illustration of how much the party has travelled since the days when it was inextricably linked with the IRA.
Mr O’Dowd said the attack was “simply wrong on all levels” and that “continued militant republicanism is counter productive”. He expressed appropriate concern for the endangered lives of PSNI officers and civilians and “dissident foot soldiers”.
And, as education minister, he nodded to youth in his stirring ending: “We all deserve better, especially our young people. There is an alternative to conflict, to death and prison.”
But he added that the attack “is a product of MI5 and war junkies working together”. He said that innocent lives were “irrelevant in the eyes of the war junkies in suits and their pals in balaclavas”.
I asked one of Mr O’Dowd’s aides for clarification but had not received it last night.
So let’s examine what he clearly seems to have been saying: that MI5 and dissident terrorists were equally to blame for Lurgan.
If that is so, then the British Security Service is trying to murder police and others.
This is of course Sinn Fein’s line on the Troubles – that the UK state was murderous and had to be resisted militarily.
We can have a debate about that. My own long-standing view is that all senior republicans know in their bones that this is rubbish, because if Britain had been remotely as ruthless as they say then they and their successors would all have been killed, and long ago.
But set the past to one side. Mr O’Dowd is talking about now. It is, at best, a ludicrous conspiracy theory. At worst it fuels terror: after all, if MI5 are murdering thugs, dissidents might be right to fight the British?
Sinn Fein clearly has a balancing act to strike in stemming dissident support, as Martin McGuinness found when he tried both to show respect to Peggy O’Hara and to criticise paramilitary displays. He was given short shrift.
But whatever their difficulties, they are in power and must now accept and liaise with all branches of government, including intelligence.
Mr O’Dowd’s remarks are a dramatic example of Sinn Fein trying to ride two horses.
MI5 are run ragged preventing terror here and Islamic terror in England.
It is deeply cynical and irresponsible to imply that they are abetting it.