Sammy Heenan: Critics of unionist politicians should try to walk in their shoes

Sammy Heenan, at his remote farm in the hills in Co Down  where his father was murdered by the IRA in 1985
Sammy Heenan, at his remote farm in the hills in Co Down where his father was murdered by the IRA in 1985
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The apathy towards unionist politicians sadly continues unabated from some quarters within the unionist community.

Challenging politicians in a constructive manner is appropriate but sadly it is now trendy to be critical for the sake of being critical.

A similar level of criticism is seldom on display from nationalists towards their own elected representatives, which is remarkable considering the vile contribution from many of them to society over 30 traumatic years.

Let us never forget the sacrifice our politicians and their families made throughout the duration of the ‘Troubles’.

I listened the Rev William McCrea share his remarkable testimony in Rathfriland Baptist Church.

In that testimony, he remarked that he travelled everywhere in an armoured car for 25 years, just imagine?

His life, and that of his family, was severely disrupted culminating in his house being indiscriminately riddled with bullets in 1994 by PIRA.

Bullets that narrowly missed his young daughter as she was standing at the living room window.

These politicians lived under a constant threat and persevered to ensure democracy and representation was afforded to our people throughout those dark and difficult days. Life for them and their families was never normal.

These are statistics and realities that many of our young people are oblivious to and older members of society often forget in the chorus of relentless criticism.

We do owe these politicians a great deal of gratitude.

Some of a certain vintage can recall how close John Taylor was to death as he was seriously wounded by an OIRA gunman, we remember the murder of Robert Bradford MP, Edgar Graham and the Chairman of Armagh Council, Charlie Armstrong.

People like Jim Nicholson’s and Nigel Dodds’s families attacked and many councillors at local level experiencing the wrath of the republican movement.

This threat transcended all parties and levels of representation. It took a brave person to put their head above the parapet then and it takes a brave and special person to be a unionist politician today.

Within the current domain, there is an increasing level of relentless abuse, hatred, threats, invasion of privacy, unparalleled scrutiny, family pressures, family absence and at times a thankless public.

Politicians are reflective of wider society, some make mistakes and a few do bring disrepute to the role of a politician.

The next time people easily criticise, they should possibly reflect, they haven’t walked in the shoes of a politician and the easiest place to criticise is often from the comfort and relative safety of the keypad on the phone.

We must never forget, the people who murdered Lyra McKee were the same calibre of individuals who perpetrated the thuggery against those mentioned above. At times many lack that sense of perspective and get carried away in the chorus of unfair criticism.

That’s why it is imperative that in elections such as the one this week and the coming European election, it is imperative we all get out and vote, transfer to all unionists to maximise representation and never forget the sacrifice made by politicians to protect democracy against the scourge of terrorism.

l Sammy Heenan, who is a member of the DUP, is a relative of a Troubles victim: his father was murdered by the IRA at their home in Co Down 34 years ago today. This originally appeared on his Facebook page and has been reproduced here with his permission