Fintan O’Toole is a very smart and a very moral man. He must be smart: he’s written over twenty books. And he must be moral, because he’s been awarded the AT Cross Award for Supreme Contribution to Irish Journalism as well as the Justice Award of the Incorporated Law Society. He is, in short, a man highly respected south of the border.
Two days ago he had a very smart and a very moral piece in the Irish Times . It’s headed ‘The ugly sound of a howl of joy haunts Sinn Féin’s account of IRA killings”. He’s referring of course to the claim by a witness that, having killed Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, the departing IRA unit gave a whoop of joy. This was what Fintan terms “the explosion of pure joy at the triumphant conclusion to the hunt”. This victory shout is significant because “it gives the lie to the story that Sinn Féin would have us swallow about those killings and so many hundreds more. The story is that the killers were acting out of a sense of painful duty”.
For a very smart man, Fintan has surprisingly stumbled into a basic schoolboy error of logic here (at least I’m assuming it’s an error and not deliberate): he argues from the particular to the general. I can say “My cat is grey” but if I argue from that “All cats are grey” I’m clearly talking tosh – arguing from the particular to the general. Fintan quotes Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: “Every soldier and combatant in a conflict has a duty to prosecute a war, tragically, yes, that is the case”. Fintan has then seized on Mac Lochlainn’s “a duty to prosecute a war” and changed it into “a duty to kill unarmed opponents” and a duty prosecuted by all republicans.
As a very moral man who seeks only the truth and the whole truth, Fintan is probably aware in the light of mature reflection that this picture of IRA policy is a false one. He’s also probably aware that Anne Cadwallader’s book Lethal Allies provides clear evidence that some 120 unarmed Catholics with no involvement in the conflict of any kind were killed by loyalist death squads acting in conjunction with the British army. So he’ll see that he’s unfortunately (and no doubt accidentally) chosen to focus on one killing, that of the two RUC officers Buchanan and Breen, and in a moment of absent-mindedness reserved his moral outrage for those killings, while other killings even more reprehensible get ignored or glossed over.
Yes, Virginia, I know Fintan might well look around the south’s mainstream media and argue “Sure everybody’s doing it!”. But as a very intelligent and very moral man I know he would know that’s no argument at all.