Divisions overshadow Ireland’s reflection on War of Independence a century ago.
DUBLIN — A Sinn Féin lawmaker has apologized for lauding two mass killings of British military forces by the IRA and for mocking the British as “slow learners.”
“As we work to advance reconciliation on our island, we need to be able to talk about the past in a way that is honest to each other and to our beliefs, but also that doesn’t deepen division or cause hurt,” Brian Stanley said at the start of Wednesday’s sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, the most high-profile committee in Ireland’s parliament. Stanley is its chairman.
In a tweet last weekend, Stanley linked the two biggest killings of British forces in Ireland over the past century: the Kilmichael ambush of November 28, 1920, during Ireland’s War of Independence, when IRA members used rifles, grenades and bayonets to kill 16 soldiers on a County Cork roadside; and the Narrow Water ambush of August 27, 1979, when the Provisional IRA killed 18 soldiers in Northern Ireland using two remote-controlled bombs triggered from across the border.
Stanley tweeted on the 100th anniversary of the Kilmichael slaughter that both attacks had “taught the elite of [the] British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. Pity for everyone they were such slow learners.”
He deleted the tweet after his own party leaders — already sharing power in Northern Ireland and seeking eventually to take the governmental reins in the Republic of Ireland — criticized it as poorly judged. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Stanley’s tweet “caused upset and unnecessary controversy.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, from the Fine Gael party, denounced Stanley’s remarks as “stupid” and said they showed that Sinn Féin’s “mask is slipping again” — a reference to its close ties with the Provisional IRA.
That illegal group killed nearly 1,800 people from 1970 to 1997 in a failed effort to force Northern Ireland out of the U.K. and into the Republic. Instead, the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 led to the Provisionals’ disarmament in 2005 and the formation two years later of a power-sharing government jointly led by Sinn Féin. More than 5,000 British troops continue to be based in the region, although they no longer work alongside the police.
In Belfast, the leader of the Protestant half of that unity government, First Minister Arlene Foster, called earlier this week for Stanley to be removed as chairman of the committee that oversees government and state agency spending in Ireland’s parliament in Dublin.
The Irish parliamentary speaker, Seán Ó Fearghaíl from the Fianna Fáil party, told Foster in a letter Tuesday that he was “appalled and profoundly dismayed” by Stanley’s tweet. He said unspecified action would be taken if Stanley didn’t retract what he called “an affront to all those committed to democratic politics on the island of Ireland.”
Although Stanley apologized Wednesday for the “insensitivity” of his tweet, other members of the committee accused Sinn Féin of regularly making statements at events and on social media that romanticize and justify IRA bloodshed.
The episode underlines how Ireland’s disputed historical narrative — particularly over the use of violence to drive political change — often overshadows commemorations of events.
This is being brought into sharp relief as the nation reflects on the most horrific events from its War of Independence a century ago.
In that 1919-21 conflict, Irish Republican Army guerrillas waged hit-and-run attacks on police and soldiers in a campaign to make the country ungovernable. Britain first partitioned Ireland and then struck a treaty with Irish republican leaders to create the Irish Free State, the precursor to today’s Republic of Ireland.
The predominantly Protestant part of the island that remained in the U.K., Northern Ireland, suffered three decades of conflict pitting a new northern-based group, the Provisional IRA, against British security forces and outlawed Protestant gangs.
From the Provisionals’ ranks grew a modern Sinn Féin party that over the past quarter-century has gradually expanded into the south — culminating in a February electoral breakthrough that gave Sinn Féin the biggest share of the popular vote in the Republic for the first time. It now forms the main opposition to the three-party coalition government of Prime Minister Micheál Martin.
To the irritation of other Irish parties, Sinn Féin claims direct lineage to the rebels who founded the Irish state a century ago. Martin’s Fianna Fáil and Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael both claim that ground too, since their parties emerged from the split that tore apart the original Sinn Féin in 1922 following the treaty with Britain; Sinn Féiners who backed the compromise formed what became Fine Gael, the hard-liners Fianna Fáil.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lawmakers told Stanley his apology was not sufficient and called on him to make a fuller statement to the entire parliament.
Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe said Stanley was wrong to compare the IRA of the War of Independence era to “an organization of the same name” that committed bombings and killings decades later in Northern Ireland.
Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill told Stanley that his party regularly glorifies past IRA violence “in a strategic and deliberate way.” She said it was essential to protect “the moderate nature of our politics.”
Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/irish-lawmaker-says-sorry-for-praising-ira-killings/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication