Cardinal Daly and violence

“He was an outspoken critic of those who used violence to achieve political objectives” Taoiseach Brian Cowen said. “I pay tribute to his consistent opposition to the use of violence” DUP minister Arlene Foster said. “He was totally opoosed to violence” and “an outstanding critic of the armed campaign of the IRA” said Dr Stafford Carson, the Presbyterian Moderator. They were all, of course, talking about Cardinal Cathal Daly, whose funeral takes place tomorrow.

Of the many eulogies, the last by Stafford Carson catches the core of the late cardinal’s contribution to politics in the north of Ireland. That’s because Carson is half-right. Cardinal Daly was indeed an outstanding critic of the armed campaign of the IRA. He rarely passed on an oppportunity to denounce it and those associated with it as cruel and immoral. He also urged that they could attain their political goals by peaceful means. That part of Carson’s judgement is accurate. The other half – that he “was totally opposed to violence” is not accurate and in fact misleading. Missing from the late cardinal’s attitude to violence (surprisingly, given the man’s formidable intellect) were consistency and context.

While IRA violence received repeated rebuke from the late cardinal, other instances of violence appear to have escaped censure. I can’t remember him condemning loyalist violence or RUC violence or British Army violence. Did I just miss it? Or perhaps he didn’t believe it was his area – perhaps he believed that Protestant churchmen should look after that end of things. Or perhaps he saw violence from those sources as somehow justified and acceptable. Whatever the answer, there is an inconsistency and a decontextualised quality to his attacks on political violence. His condemnation of IRA violence took no consideration of the events which led up to the resumption of IRA violence in the early 1970s and less consideration of the history of the British presence on this island during the twentieth century and before. In fact, Cardinal Daly’s views on republican violence matched closely to those politicians such as Thatcher who branded republican violence as an inexplicable outbreak of criminal activity, to be treated as such. Sad but not surprising to say, Cardinal Daly, so vocal in condemning republican violence, had nothing to say about state violence, whether that was directed against other states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or against its own citizens, such as nationalists in the north of Ireland.

For those who value peace above all else, an anti-violence stance has much to commend it; but if such a stance isn’t flanked by context and consistency, it risks being mistaken for hypocrisy.

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