Protestant Douglas Hyde, elected first President of (twenty-six county) Ireland in 1938, had founded The Gaelic League in 1893 to preserve and promote Irish culture and in particular the language. He resigned as President of the League on July 31st, 1915, in protest at the takeover of the League by physical force nationalists, forerunners of the later IRA. There has always been tension between language purists and language activists around the Irish language since the consequence of IRA/Sinn Fein interest in the language has always been to deter Protestants from association with it.

Irish nationalist and separatist movements down the centuries have always desired Protestant members and every June/July republican and leftist would-be revolutionaries pilgrimage to the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown to be perfumed by the musk of Protestant separatism and to try to appear non-sectarian. The various versions of Sinn Fein do this every year, as do most of the Southern political parties.

Prior to 1970 in Derry, the separatist movement was in the form of the ‘Stickie’ Official IRA, a leftist Stalinist grouping with guns but confused as to how to use them. I recall prominent Stickies telling me in 1970 when it was clear that I and others in a Stickie ‘slua’ [group] based around Thundering Down were going off to join the nascent Provisional IRA that the Provos would not amount to anything more than a reactionary nationalist and sectarian Fascist front that would end up murdering innocent Protestants, a prospect I found unbelievable. Three or four of those big words fell on my 15 year old deaf ears and I joined the Provos anyway.

For all that many people viewed the Stickies as superior to the Provos at that time, they too nevertheless slid down the slippery slope of mindless violence and murdered not only Ulster Unionist Senator John Barnhill, they bombed Aldershot in England after Bloody Sunday and murdered seven civilians, mostly women cleaners and a Catholic priest army chaplain. Reserving the right to retaliate, they murdered another seven British soldiers mostly in sniper attacks. They murdered a young Derry soldier home on leave, William Best and went on to engage in feuds with other republicans and murdered Provos and INLA members before they mostly ceased fire. So much for Leftist violence as a path to political purity.

Down the years, some IRA people from across Ireland have used a phrase critical of me and others in Derry that we “lived in a bubble”, implying that we in the Derry Brigade were fooling ourselves that the Provisional IRA would not have to deliberately murder innocent Protestants. When I was arrested during the 1975 Ceasefire, I ended up in Crumlin Road gaol and was appointed ‘Intelligence Officer’ with the duty to debrief newly arrested IRA volunteers about their police interrogations with a view to enabling the IRA outside to engage in damage limitation.

Within a few weeks of taking up this role in May 1975, I debriefed a teenage Belfast IRA volunteer following a shooting on the Shankill Road in which two men had been shot dead.

From my bubble, I asked the kid, “Did you shoot the two Loyalist paramilitaries the other evening on Westland Road?” to which he replied, “I stiffed the first two Orangies I saw.”

Incredible as it may seem now, I was shocked at this revelation. In my naivety, I wrote to the Derry Brigade informing it that it appeared that the Belfast Brigade was murdering innocent Protestants.

I also wrote to the Belfast Brigade questioning the murders of innocent Protestants. Reaction was swift.

Belfast republican Maura Drumm was at that time Chief of Staff of Cumann na mBan – the women’s wing of the IRA. She was also a rare female member of the then IRA Army Council.

She was given privileged visits to prisoners in the prisons in Northern Ireland at that time.

She landed in on a Special Visit to me and told me I was “stood down”.

This meant that I was immediately fired from my position and became suddenly quite isolated on the IRA wing of Crumlin Road gaol.

The Derry Brigade never responded to my revelatory message, nor to my isolation within the prison for challenging the Belfast Brigade IRA murders of innocent Protestants. The ability of republicans to turn a blind eye to IRA injustices and evils was becoming clear.

The Provisional IRA went on to deliberately murder not alone the disappeared but also very many innocent Protestants in a full blown sectarian campaign and any dissenting voices within the IRA were obviously silenced. The IRA architects of these terroristic sectarian murders continue to strut the political spectrum in Northern Ireland (and the hypocritical annual Wolfe Tone Bodenstown Commemoration) unconcerned about either the criminality or sinfulness or shamefulness of their actions. Given their dreams to be remembered as statesmen, there will as likely be no repentant truthful acknowledgements of these heinous and terrorist crimes and their part in them as the history of the IRA’s ‘armed struggle’ is currently re-propagandised to whitewash a totally unnecessary period of gun, bomb and murder worship.

It would be unthinkable that the city of Boston would allow a celebratory commemoration of the Boston Marathon Bombers’ successful murders of its citizens. It is equally unthinkable that America would tolerate a celebration or public remembrance – call it what you will – of the 9/11 Twin Towers’ and Pentagon attackers. Nor would Britain allow a triumphal honouring of the Manchester bomber(s) – which ones, you may well ask, the IRA bombers or the IS bombers? All terroristic bombings are terrible and never to be repeated. Why should Northern Ireland celebrate bombers or killers?

Michelle O’Neill had the chance to write a new chapter in Northern Ireland’s future by deliberately avoiding involvement in celebrating the IRA’s murder campaign and leaving it to yesteryear’s blinkered deniers to lead it at Loughgall. Instead she chose the path of least integrity by bowing to these old codfathers. They applaud a campaign that brought death and misery to both its victims and to its perpetrators.

The IRA’s July 2002 ‘apology’ to non-combatants close to the 30th anniversary of its Bloody Friday carnage was a carefully muddled affair that began with reference to ‘deaths and injuries of non-combatants’ and offered ‘sincere apologies and condolences’ to their families. It then referred to ‘all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non-combatants’. The IRA’s duplicitous aim in this apology was to set in train a project in which an armed killer – a murderer – was to be rendered morally and legally equal to his unarmed and murdered victim. An armed IRA man who murdered an unarmed and innocent Protestant civilian was to be as much a victim of the murder as the unarmed, killed prey. In other words, a rapist was to be regarded as much a victim as the raped person; a paedophile as much a victim as the violated child. Only the Father of Lies could have conceived such a foul and immoral project as this, and the spawn of this was none other than Sinn Fein’s attempt to paint Loughgall’s intending killers as victims and martyrs.

Michelle, would you actually celebrate all of the IRA’s murderers or just some of them? Would you come to Derry’s Waterside and celebrate the shooter of Joanne Mathers, a 29 year old unarmed mother and census collector murdered by a masked IRA volunteer? How would you grade his bravery in shooting her? Would you celebrate the murderer of unarmed civilian Jeffrey Agate, MD of DuPont who gave well paid employment to Catholics and Protestants on a non-sectarian basis? How brave was his armed IRA murderer now hiding out in Derry and unwilling to own up to his most cowardly action? Would you celebrate the murderers of unarmed mother Jean McConville and/or the murderers of 3 year old Johnathan Ball and 12 year old Timothy Parry killed by the IRA’s Warrington bombs? Why not celebrate the Enniskillen Remembrance Day IRA bombers or the Kingsmill shooters? How are these IRA actions any less memorable than Loughgall? What was the value of your signing a book of condolence to the Manchester bomb victims when you blatantly celebrate bombers and killers in public? Do you really not see HYPOCRISY writ large above you?

The IRA’s armed struggle was indivisible. It encompassed all the needless and shameful sectarian murders and maiming of civilian men, women and children, innocent Protestants and Catholics and indeed many of its own members. If you can find it in yourself to celebrate one murder, you celebrate them all. Viewed from your rather unbelievable equality agenda, Michelle, are they and their horror not all equally terrible and equally to be put well and truly behind us?

It is rather extraordinary now that Sinn Fein/IRA are so dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Irish language. It would be a boon to the islands of Ireland and Britain if Sinn Fein/IRA were also dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Truths of the IRA’s sectarian gun and bomb campaign and promotion of those truths to victims of its bombings and murders. Perhaps there should be an Irish Truth Act for victims.

There is a deep moral evil abroad in Northern Ireland and it lies in Sinn Fein’s project to finally kill Truth and replace it with Lies. There used to be republicans – even if in bubbles – who would protest such unprincipled iniquity.

[First published in The News Letter, Belfast, July 8, 2017]