Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

‘The Disappeared’ – Why SF need to face their demons

I watched the documentary ‘The Disappeared’ last night. It made for some harrowing viewing. I watched with interest as my twitter stream sprang into life with comments about the show. The documentary showed us a disgusting, shameful and inexcusable part of our history. It also showed us that the search for answers and truth goes on even after all this time. I was struck once again though by the comments of the political supporters. Time and time again I say it, that the biggest weakness in a political party is when it cannot criticise itself or seeks to blame others.

I say this about Fianna Fail. They cannot move on until such time as they truly face the demons of what went wrong on the economy and who exactly took what decisions. The current government seem doomed to emulate the errors of FF by not being able to accept criticism by being blinded by the idea that just because you think you are doing good then it must be right. You can’t keep blaming someone else and saying ‘but….’. Sometimes you have to stand up and say you were wrong with no excuses. Supporters have to fly the flag to some extent, but to really be effective they must heed criticism, take it on board and start to deal with the issues. Criticism is far more helpful to any cause than praise if you heed it.

The conflict in Northern Ireland was never pretty. Some of the worst atrocities imaginable took place during its reign of death and terror. One of the first comments I noticed last night was suggesting that ‘bad things happen in a war’. That is no excuse. Its an abomination to even offer it. Bad things do happen in war. That is why war is such a disgusting and abhorrent activity that is to be avoided. War is not something to be glorified. There are heroes in wars but there are also evil people who benefit from such times. Never can we say that the rule of law or natural justice is suspended because there is a war. Such a pathetically weak approach suggests that its ok to have a free for all because you don’t want to upset any bad guys that might help you. Bad things happen in war and people should be made answer for them. The families of the disappeared deserve that much.

The next defence I noticed was that the documentary didn’t mention the atrocities committed by the UVF/UDA or British security forces. No it didnt. There was no reason for it to. If anybody lives under the illusion that nobody else knows what such forces did in Northern Ireland then I feel sorry for them. There is absolutely no doubt but that nationalists suffered greatly and were murdered and abused by loyalist forces and that collusion with security forces enabled this. That is not relevant. Those matters are for separate investigations and answers. If you want to suggest that what happened to ‘the disappeared’ was ok because of what loyalists did, then you automatically are suggesting that it was all fair and nobody needs to look any further into any of it. Leave it behind the scores were settled. Any fair minded person can see that is utter nonsense. There was no excuse for what the IRA did with these victims. There is nothing that makes such an action right. It only takes an ounce of courage to be able to face that fact. The truth needs to be told. Two wrongs never made a right. After all this time if we have not grown up enough to admit that what happened to these victims was wrong and not part of any ‘just’ war then we really have not grown up at all. The families of ‘the disappeared’ deserve that much.

Next came the excuse that ‘the old IRA did it’. Well I guess that makes everything fine then. Excuse me if I missed the part where we beatified all members of the old IRA. Even great historical figures like Collins, De Valera, Pearse and Wolfe Tone had huge flaws in their characters. There is nothing wrong with praising their good actions while deploring their faults. They had many faults. The old IRA did much that was wrong and we should be ashamed of it just as much as we are proud of what any of them did right. No matter what it is no excuse. We cannot say that just because someone did it before that makes it ok to do it now. Just because someone got away with atrocities in the past we cannot allow people get away with it now. The families of ‘the disappeared’ deserve that much.

Then we come to Gerry Adams. The defence of his position was stout. Now, I am not one of those that thinks SF should be silenced at every opportunity. Regardless of their past, if they have a good economic policy or theory then it deserves to be heard and debated on its merits. They are entitled to question others and represent their electorate without being dismissed and avoided. They are a political party and should be treated the same as any other. With that, however, comes a certain responsibility. SF cannot ignore the questions others pose of it. They must be willing to hear the arguments of others and face their own demons. Several sources now link Gerry Adams to the death of Jean McConville. He says however that he had nothing to do with it and that these are all just dissatisfied republicans.

You see I could listen to that defence and I could even perhaps believe it, if it were a case that Gerry Adams could tell me exactly what he did do with the IRA. Adams had a very tough upbringing and suffered greatly at the hands of British forces. Yet, his story seems to be that he never got involved in the IRA. He joined SF and was purely political always seemingly trying to get them to give up the guns. Now, SF was an organization that did not condemn the IRA, they were close to IRA figures and Adams was hugely respected by the IRA. I cannot just buy the idea that that respect was given so easily to the nice little boy who talked peaceful politics. Gerry Adams knew who was who in the IRA, particularly in Belfast. Even if he was not involved directly in the orders for IRA activities he would know exactly who was. If Gerry Adams wanted to find out who was responsible he could do it.

Sinn Fein has made great political advances, surely these self sacrificing patriots’ who carried out these activities for their cause can see that? Surely they would be willing to give themselves up to stop this tarnishing and damaging their beloved organisation? I think we all know the real answer to that. Sinn Fein knows it too. Gerry Adams involvement with the IRA has never been clarified and the story that he was not part of it is wearing thin. Even so, as the senior SF figure he acted like a press officer and he had to be informed and told so that the party could react in the public sphere and with people on the ground.

All political parties need to face their demons. Whether economic or military you must be able to say exactly what you did wrong. Specifics are all important. Last night Gerry Adams said he had ‘regrets’, but he went no further. We still don’t know what haunts him at night or keeps him awake. As for the twitter stream, the most damning tweets were from those who mentioned Gerry Adams teddy bears, and ducks in the bath and enjoying life to the full. One Tweeter simply asked ‘Did Jean McConville’s children hug their Teddies at night after their mother was taken?’ Last nights documentary put a lot in perspective about what should trouble waking and sleeping thoughts. The families of ‘the disappeared’ deserve that much.

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