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Daily Archives: February 5th, 2020

War is infernal; humans target fellow humans and try to kill them. Bad as it is, humanity has been compelled to define something more vile than war itself: the war crime, a category of crime against humanity. Two things need to be said. Firstly, no particular state can forgive a crime against humanity; the protection or amnesty of a state that might be afforded to perpetrators ends at its border. Secondly, there are many forms but targeting civilians is an unambiguous war crime.

During what is euphemistically called the Troubles in Ireland the Prov. IRA waged – as they see it – a war of liberation. Their selected targets were frequently civilian most notably through the use of public bombs. In other words their war was to a large extent conducted through the commission of war crimes. They were supported throughout by Sinn Féin.

After peace was agreed and the IRA disbanded* Sinn Féin embarked on a process of normalisation so as to gain wider acceptance as a political party. They had a choice: They could have put the war crimes behind them and relied on people to forgive and forget; or they could carry their support for war crimes into the future and make that support normal, a part of Irish life. They chose the latter and so they put it up to every Irish citizen to make the most fundamental of choices.

Sinn Féin enjoy the support of perhaps 20% of Irish voters and a much higher proportion of citizens will socialise with them and treat them as entirely normal. If the acceptance or celebration of war crime is to become a feature of life in Ireland, it will be a grave step. It will bring dishonour upon the nation and it should be approached carefully and with deliberation. That is to say, before we decide to normalise war crimes, war criminals and their supporters, there should be confrontation and frank public discussion. This is far too serious for any citizen to be be able to claim that they didn’t know.

SF use a number of devices to avoid the core issue.

1. Rubbish the very concept of a war crime

The argument here is that all war includes war crimes. That’s very likely true but it certainly doesn’t make war crimes any less evil or a normal tactic for combatants. It provides SF with a sick, self-serving rationale for pretending that the killings during the troubles or the armed struggle were typical of wars and that it is time to normalise them. Their proposition is that a war has ended and that its participants were good people caught up in a conflict and can now return to civilian life. This is a parody which ordinary Irish people will never accept.

Ordinary people know full well that in the pit of horrors that is crimes against humanity and war crimes, something stands out: the intentional targeting of civilians. To be absolutely clear: all combatants select targets, they make a choice. Some choose to kill civilians rather than soldiers.

SF will say that civilians unfortunately die in all wars. Yes, civilians die in wars but when they are intentionally targeted, it is deemed a war crime, a crime against humanity.

Furthermore, the IRA campaign was not a military campaign blighted by the unfortunate deaths of civilians. Neither was it a military campaign during which war crimes were committed, crimes which dishonoured the majority of the fighting force. Rather it was a campaign in which civilians were routinely chosen as targets; the preference for civilian deaths was punctuated by military engagements. The reality of the IRA’s armed struggle is a hideous inversion of SF’s warrior tale.

The Good Friday Agreement approved by the majority of Irish people involved among other features an end to IRA attacks in return for the Irish and UK states’ virtual amnesty for perpetrators, commanders and facilitators. It did not absolve, forgive or change the horror; it was a deal approved by citizens under duress. The IRA’s campaign remains a sordid series of crimes against humanity which was and is approved by SF. The Good Friday Agreement does not oblige any Irish citizen to join or vote for SF. Neither does it oblige any Irish citizen to engage socially with members and supporters of SF. It certainly does not imply that honouring war crimes become an accepted/normal part of Irish life.

2. Pretend that new leaders are different
Until relatively recently a common thread in Irish journalism was that SF needed to break with its past by changing to younger leaders. Now, this was a particularly sneaky argument because those who presented it knew well that the new leaders had joined the organisation before the killings stopped. SF’s present finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, joined the year that Garda McCabe was murdered, a year in which civilians were bombed in Britain. Former MEP Lynn Boylan is the partner of Eoin O’Broin, the SF spokesperson on Housing, Planning & Local Government. When she was elected an MEP, pictures show her hoisted in celebration on the shoulders of an alleged bomber. It is ludicrous to suggest that such people are naive and do not discuss the nature of their chosen party.

3. Pretend that recent recruits are uninformed

SF has recruited many members, quite a few oedf them born years after the killings had stopped. It is argued that they know nothing of the crimes. This is patronising nonsense which rests on the plainly silly suggestion that the decision to join a political party is a trivial matter, done without thought. Not so. When a young person joins a party, it is deliberate, a choice, the selection of one party from among others. Such young people are not deluded, mistaken or intimidated. They are aware of what they are doing, they are making informed decisions.

4. Pretend that voters are stupid

A similar range of choice faces voters of whom something in the region of 20% choose SF. It is this figure that reveals the extent of a dark stain that is at risk of spreading across Irish society. A couple of evasions are offered to pretend that these citizens are innocent of support for any kind of violence, never mind the celebration of crimes against humanity.

Firstly, it is argued that at this remove from the ceasefire voters know nothing of what happened or regard it as a history which should now be ignored. This, however, is precisely what SF oppose. They have decided not to let the history fade but to drag it forward and have the celebration of war crimes become normal in the future.

Secondly, it is argued that while voters are aware of the crimes, they are voting for current policies and/or personalities, or are voting tactically against a despised government. Sometimes a part of this argument is that SF has become socialist or vaguely leftist and their relatively large support offers the possibility of a left-alliance majority government.

These are the arguments of those who despise ordinary citizens, who regard them as utterly uninformed and/or incapable of voting with thought. Among any group of voters there will be those who haven’t a clue and those who will try to avoid responsibility by feigning ignorance but most voters – including SF voters – are well aware of what they are doing.

The line that current controversies, issue, policies matter more than the past is important and deserves a terse response. This is not a matter of minor transgressions, petty crimes or even murders being consigned to the past and deemed unimportant with the passage of time. Choosing to target civilians – crimes against humanity – time and again can never be disregarded; war criminals as always must be pursued to the grave. When it comes to voting intentions, the very idea that commemorating/celebrating war crimes now and into our future could be less important than a policy or programme is abhorrent to civilised thinking.

Ordinary Irish citizens should accept an obligation

Face it: a sizeable minority in Ireland vote SF. Rather than pretend that they all represent something innocuous or some sort of misunderstanding or mistake, it would be sensible to confront two more likely and dismal explanations: the existence among us of i) a significant number who are not overly concerned about SF’s attempt to make the celebration of war crimes normal in Ireland or ii) a significant number who approve the Prov. IRA campaign and think it right that it be normalised for celebration.

There is an obligation on the rest of us to stand up for a basic point of civilisation: that the targeting of civilians is unforgivable and that to celebrate it is perverse. In this republic each citizen faces the decision of whether or not to acquiesce, to socialise without dissent or at every opportunity to tell such people that they ought to be ashamed of themselves and that they will never be accepted within the Irish nation.

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* Very few now believe that the IRA is gone. Their Army Council is thought to command SF.