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we propose some principle
The issue of republicans supplying the state with information pertaining to those who bombed Omagh has steadily crept to the centre of media discourse focussing on the attack. The Sinn Fein president has openly stated that he has no problem in principle with those who planned and carried it out being brought to trial. Furthermore, he maintained that it is up to people to make their own judgment on whether information should be passed to the police and that many would see it as "a moral issue".
We hardly need the recent media frenzy to remind us that the attack was a disaster. What makes it even more atrocious is that those who carried it out continued to expose civilian populations to the same risk by persisting in their futile activity, as if there existed some inalienable right to kill people by mistake in the name of Ireland which overrode the rights of people not to be killed. This human right not to be killed by an unaccountable cultic minority will ultimately lead to a situation where people will, in order to protect innocent life, either come to pass information to the state or at least feel indifferent to those that do. For those republicans intent on pursuing physical force there is something to be learned from acknowledging that the school favouring omerta is rapidly shrinking.
Viewers of last week’s UTV Insight programme must have wondered what it was all about. The families of the dead along with some of those injured in the greatest single act of violence perpetrated against Irish people in the course of this conflict appeared to be getting the run-around. One relative likened their position to that of a tennis ball being batted back and forth between Nuala O'Loan and Ronnie Flanagan.
There have since been reports that both O'Loan and Flanagan have been told to refrain from their 'public slanging match'. In other words keep the business of the public from the public. Maintain the pretence of a well-oiled and functioning relationship between the servants of the state and those of civil society in the hope that by concealing matters from the public our ignorance rather than our knowledge may legitimise our inegalitarian society and conceal the unaccountability of our government.
For some the most unpalatable aspect of Insight may have been the decision by the producers to inflict the politicians on the relatives. But even here the cynicism and evasiveness of those for whom some of us vote must always be demonstrated if the public is to learn. At one time Pat Doherty used to look, speak and behave like one of us. In those days politicians were all liars and we were going to bring something fundamentally decent and honest to political life. Our volunteers were dying in prison to proclaim a truth. And now, on Insight, we are reduced to watching Pat Doherty bobbing and weaving, ducking and diving like the rest of them. He now represents everything we dreaded ever becoming. Donning the suit of an establishment politician held the same anathema for us as attiring ourselves in the uniform of the criminal. Of course, Pat Doherty did not get it easy on Insight. But it was all the more inviting to attack him given that his position is more contradictory than the others. It does not take a genius to work out that republicanism has moved further from its core tenets than any other party on the island.
The difficult question confronting Pat Doherty was should Sinn Fein add its voice to those already calling for the public to come forward to the Gardai with information that would help convict the Omagh bombers? The Sinn Fein MP was quite uncomfortable on the matter and his reasoning that the Gardai were suspect because they would pass such information to the Continuity RUC was argued without passion or conviction. Perhaps, it was merely a holding mechanism until such times as Sinn Fein devise a Martin McGartland prize for peace as a means of giving the nod of approval to informers.
Maybe Pat Doherty personally finds the passing on of information to the state abhorrent. But the logic of where Sinn Fein is now at in terms of being - as its president agreed in a Late Late show debate with Ruairi Quinn - an establishment party meant that Doherty would have found it politically much more comfortable arguing that such information should indeed be passed on. Establishment situational logic eventually produces establishment attitudes and ultimately establishment behaviour.
I do not agree that we should be calling for the Omagh bombers to be handed up to the state. For that sin I can be accused of merely dissenting from the notion that both legitimacy and justice are a matter of dates. My opposition to informing on the Omagh bombers is not because I sympathise with the act of bombing or even with the philosophy of those who carried it out. Whatever residual attachment to or affection for the actions of the physical force tradition still lingering within me expired on the day of the Omagh bombing as rapidly as life did from its victims. But I find it a major inconsistency to demand justice for the families of those who died in Omagh and thereby justify Kevin Myers' term an 'obscene and selective victimhood' by saying that those families deserve it more than the families of those killed in Enniskillen. And yet we can be fairy assured that the deaths resulting from the Omagh attack were a diabolical accident whereas ‘kills’ in Enniskillen were the deliberate intention.
Sometime prior to the Omagh bomb and shortly before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement I recall sitting at lunch with a senior member of Sinn Fein. He was assertively defending the strategy of the leadership, pointing out that the party would never settle for anything even vaguely resembling the Sunningdale Agreement - such an agreement could never be acceptable to republicans as an outcome of this war. By way of demonstrating that he had not gone off the boil regarding his commitment to the use of force he told me he and other party members had cheered when Moira and Portadown were bombed a matter of mere months before Omagh. He was being no worse than myself as I did not criticise him for it. And yet today we are supposed to leap across a Chinese wall and look back upon the Omagh bombers as if they are a breed apart. As if they are not our kith and kin within the ‘republican family’. As if we did not at one point call each other 'comrade'. As if the Omagh bombers, the products of our shared moral universe, felt vastly different from those who only two and a half years earlier bombed London's Canary Wharf killing civilians in the process.
Whether we like it or not it was we who were in the Provisional Republican Movement who produced the Omagh bombers. We armed them with the logic that for as long as the British remained in this country against our wishes it was our right to use arms to remove them; that their presence and not popular support was the mandate for armed activity. We allowed them to think that such matters need only be leadership led, that both the Irish people and the republican constituency in general could be ignored and treated with contempt and that therefore the ultimate arbiter of morality in these matters was an army council. And we encouraged their actions by cheering them as a means to disguise our own intent. Physical culpability on the day may lie solely with those who planned and executed the attack but our intellectual fingerprints are to be found all over that bomb.
At some point people may be urged to support calls to inform on those who bombed Omagh but be threatened with death by those making the call if, because of a “moral issue”, they also wish to inform on the Enniskillen bombers. Yet if each case is not treated in a consistent manner the inconsistent will face the type of question Pat Doherty once directed at the DUP - 'Isn't that pure, blatant and unadulterated hypocrisy?'
Sinn Fein are not alone in promoting double standards. Do either the Dublin or London governments really want information passed about the Enniskillen bombers in order to secure justice for the families of those killed? London has baulked throughout about information coming to light on the Pat Finucane killing. Dublin manoeuvred for decades in a bid to suppress information about the Seamus Ludlow murder. Both governments have been dragged to a position of only reluctantly acknowledging information pertaining to two major atrocities – the Bloody Sunday killings and the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.
If consistency rather than hypocrisy is to be the principle that guides the need for disclosure then the call to selectively inform is shallow and suits the interests of the powerful over and above those of the bereaved. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission applicable to the full conflict holds much greater opportunity for transparency and justice than the call for selective informing. It also holds the potential to destabilise the powerful. And for that reason society may eventually be handed those who bombed Omagh rather than such a commission – a patsy to deflect justice rather than secure it.
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