Sinn Féin accused of hijacking history for own political ends

Heather Humphreys claims party has a ‘reverence for the atrocities of the past’

Acting Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys: ‘I believe, like Collins, that we should respect the past, but we should not hide behind it to evade responsibility for our own decisions and their impact.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Acting Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys: ‘I believe, like Collins, that we should respect the past, but we should not hide behind it to evade responsibility for our own decisions and their impact.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Acting Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys has accused Sinn Féin of conducting parallel events to the State’s during the 1916 commemorations and of having an “emotional reverence for the atrocities of the past”.

Speaking at the annual Béal na mBláth commemoration in Co Cork, Ms Humphreys accused Sinn Féin of attempting to “weaponise history and in some cases re-write it entirely to suit their own political narrative. It is a lesson that some political parties on this island still have to learn.”

This year marks 99 years since Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Béal na mBláth in west Cork on August 22nd, 1922.

“I believe, like Collins, that we should respect the past, but we should not hide behind it to evade responsibility for our own decisions and their impact,” said Ms Humphreys, whose address was originally supposed to be held in person, but was moved online because of rising Covid-19 numbers.

“A real reverence for the past respects its messiness and its complexity, it does not commandeer or hijack it for political gain,” the Fine Gael TD said.

Ms Humphreys’ grandfather Robert James Stewart signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912 as a 19-year-old farmer living in Drum, Co Monaghan.

“I am sure never in his wildest dreams would Robert have thought that a little over a 100 years later his only granddaughter would be speaking at a commemoration for the man who led Ireland’s struggle for independence,” she said.

‘Romanticised views’

“Nor indeed could he have imagined that she would be a Cabinet Minister in an Irish Government. It is not lost on me that were it not for the fledgling free state - which Michael Collins fought for - I may never have had this opportunity.”

In the Treaty debates, Collins invoked the rights of the living when confronted with those who spoke about the patriotic dead, she said.

“Michael Collins had no time for hiding behind romanticised views of the past, and neither should we,” she said.

It was a principal, she claimed, to have adopted as the minister in charge of the 1916 centenary commemorations in 2016.

“My own background, as a Protestant, from a border county, and as someone with an instinctive revulsion for those who attempt to promote bitterness and division, made me particularly sensitive about the dangers we faced at that time.

“My guiding objective was to ensure that the commemorations would be inclusive, respectful and appropriate.

“Above all else, I saw my role not to interpret history but to commemorate it and recognise all of its complexities.”

Ms Humphreys suggested that Civil War politics did not end when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael went into coalition government together in July last year.

“In truth, I think the time had already long since passed where it was a determining factor in how people cast their vote,” she stressed.

Forward-looking

“In today’s modern and forward-looking Ireland, people are concerned with the issues that impact their own lives and that of their families rather than the events of 100 years ago.

“The formation of the current coalition was nonetheless a significant moment in Irish politics.”

The present coalition partners had taken charge at a time of national peril during the pandemic, she said. She acknowledged that the Government had made mistakes, but the “ big picture” suggested that “Government has delivered”.

“Our national vaccination programme, much criticised in some quarters only a few months ago, has proven to be one of the most efficient in the World,” she said.

“The Irish public have responded in kind with vaccine uptake levels across all age cohorts exceptionally high.

“For me, one of the most moving moments in recent weeks has been the response of our young people. The sight of them queuing in their thousands at vaccine clinics will be one of the enduring images of the pandemic.

“These are among the people who have lost most over the last 18 months, missing out on formative life experiences that previous generations took for granted. And yet when their time came - our young people responded and continue to respond to the national effort.”