Politicians were united in their condemnation of the despicable murder of Prison Officer David Black, but contemporaneous events show that “political nationalism” (to invert a well used phrase slightly) still has a long way to go before it completes its divorce from terrorism.
Firstly, like it or not, there are still “dissidents” out there capable of appalling and futile savagery. That much we know.
Then, however, there is Sinn Fein intervening in the operations of the PSNI when those operations go against it. If the arrest of Padraig Wilson over another despicable murder nearly a decade ago has caused them such angst, what would any revelations from Enniskillen a quarter of a century ago do?
Additionally, we have a senior Fianna Fail representative visiting a terrorist serving a sentence having been convicted of attempted murder. Politicians in the Republic of Ireland have supposedly moved on further than Northerners, but there was scant evidence of that there.
Surely worst of all, however, was the SDLP’s decision to endorse a motion seeking the freedom of the same attempted murderer, in the presence of the man he had attempted to murder. This followed on from its Leader’s decision to seek his early release in a meeting with the Secretary of State in May.
The SDLP claimed it is seeking Gerry McGeough’s release because his ongoing detention could be “exploited by dissidents“. There is an extremely dangerous logic there – that, essentially, Republican terrorists should be held to lower standards from the rest of us under the Rule of Law, and even let off with attempted murder, in case application of the Rule of Law be “exploited“. (Of course, they then seemed to contradict themselves over Padraic Wilson, so who knows what is going on?)
There is an even more ludicrous logic there: the only conceivable reason for releasing Gerry McGeough earlier than the minimum two years he is due to serve is that he carried out the attack before the Agreement. In other words: the SDLP believes we should stop seeking justice for anything associated with the Troubles. Is that what it really believes? If not, why is its Leader busying himself with petitions seeking the release of a convicted terrorist who is rightly serving his time? Why are its Councillors advocating an attempted murderer’s release directly in front of his victim?
Irish Nationalism – as a whole – continues to romanticise terrorism. Thus, it is hard to take seriously its words of condemnation after the appalling assassination of an innocent family man – after all, will this not just come to be romanticised too, in due course? If those guilty are convicted, will the SDLP not be petitioning for their early release too, in due course? What is the difference?
Until very recently, I had said the SDLP’s short-term future was safe because at least there was a clear differentiation between it and Sinn Fein. But now there isn’t. When it comes to trusting terrorists or the State, the SDLP goes with the terrorists. When it comes to choosing between the guilty Irish Republican or the victim, the SDLP goes with the guilty Irish Republican. When it comes to romanticising terrorism, the SDLP goes right along with it – even in front of the victim’s face.
There must be people in the SDLP who are appalled by their own party’s stance in support of convicted terrorists. They need to speak up quickly – for the sake of their cause, for the sake of their party, and for the sake of basic morality.