The Irish Times view on Sinn Féin and the past: competing memories

The party needs to show it is willing to give a greater measure of respect to unionists

Mary Lou McDonald's announcement that Sinn Féin will not take part in any of the official events to mark the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland undermines the notion that her leadership represents a new departure for the party.

Sadly Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are mirror images of each other and neither seems to have the faintest notion of what mutual respect might actually mean in practice.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was roundly criticised by Sinn Féin, among others, for refusing to attend any of the commemorations to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, but here is McDonald behaving in exactly the same fashion.

Nobody expects Sinn Féin to abandon its commitment to a united Ireland or change its view that partition of the island into two separate states a century ago was a retrograde step which had hugely negative consequences.


This view is also shared by mainstream parties like Fianna Fáil, which has a united Ireland as its central aspiration, and Fine Gael, whose party's subtitle in English is "The United Ireland party" as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar keeps reminding us.

However, mainstream political opinion in the Republic has come to accept that just as nationalists are entitled to commemorate with pride the actions which led to the establishment of an independent Irish state, unionists are entitled to mark the foundation of the Northern state.

This more open view has been matched by the approach of mainstream opinion in Britain, which was exemplified by the willingness of Queen Elizabeth, during her visit to Ireland in 2011, to pay her respects at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin to the Irish rebels who fought and died for independence.

This important gesture did an enormous amount for mutual understanding between the people of the two islands.

If Sinn Féin wants to portray itself as a party with relevance to the future development of this island, it needs to show it is willing to give a greater measure of respect to the unionist tradition.