The Irish Times view on the legacy of the Troubles: Sinn Féin’s evasions

To describe the British government as the main protagonist without fully acknowledging the violence carried out by republicans indicates that Sinn Féin is incapable of facing up to reality

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill sidestepped the issue of IRA violence when launching the party’s 30-page submission to the British government’s consultation on how to address the legacy of the Troubles. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill sidestepped the issue of IRA violence when launching the party’s 30-page submission to the British government’s consultation on how to address the legacy of the Troubles. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Sinn Féin’s description of the British government as the “main conflict protagonist” during the Troubles suggests the party is incapable of addressing the responsibility of the republican movement for the death and destruction caused by the Provisional IRA’s long campaign of violence.

It is worth pointing out once more that the IRA killed about half of those who lost their lives during the Troubles, far more than any other group involved in the conflict. The figures are stark. The IRA killed 1,696 people, the British army 299 and the RUC 56. In fact the IRA killed more Catholics than any of the Loyalist terror groups.

To describe the British government as the main protagonist without fully acknowledging the violence carried out by republicans indicates not only that Sinn Féin is incapable of facing up to reality but that it is determined to force its own wilfully distorted version of history on to everybody else.

There is no denying that the British government had primary responsibility for allowing discrimination and misrule in Northern Ireland to continue for decades and for failing to step in far earlier when events began to spin out of control from 1968 onwards. The British also have questions to answer about collusion with loyalist paramilitaries and direct responsibility for Bloody Sunday and other actions by the security forces.

However, to focus on British responsibility while making no credible attempt to face up to the IRA’s role in inflicting so much death and injury on the people of the North indicates that Sinn Féin is incapable of engaging honestly with the events of the past. Party deputy leader Michelle O’Neill sidestepped the issue of IRA violence when launching Sinn Féin’s 30-page submission to the British government’s consultation on how to address the legacy of the Troubles.

When asked about the casualties caused by the IRA, O’Neill came up with the facile evasions that have been Sinn Féin’s stock in trade for decades.

“When we look at the conflict there are very many different narratives of the past. The first step in reconciliation and moving forward is actually recognising that to be the fact,” she said.

This is an unacceptable evasion. The first step towards reconciliation is not blaming somebody else for the terrible things that happened in the past but accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. O’Neill suggested that there were different narratives of the past but instead of accepting the logic of that position, Sinn Féin continues to repeat the hackneyed old claim that it was the fault of the British.

If that is the best Sinn Féin can do, there is little prospect of finding an agreed approach to the past, never mind finding a way for the two communities in the North to work together in the present.

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