The interview with Arlene Foster and Michelle Gildernew didn’t take long. It came shortly after the planting of a fake bomb and the discovery of a viable device, as they say, in the Newtownbutler area. The assumption, I suspect, was that both women would join in condemnation of this act and stand shoulder to shoulder. It didn’t work out that way.
Several things were said but the key moment came when Michelle Gildernew referred to a border killing in the past – that of Aidan McAnespie at Aughnacloy. In case you’ve forgotten, Aidan McAnespie was a 23-year-old Sinn Féin activist in Augnacloy, Co Tyrone. He was – like many other Catholic young men in the area- the subject of constant harassment by the ‘security’ forces. His sister claims that prior to his death, he’d been threatened with death by the ‘security’ forces. His father claimed that some months before Aidan’s death, a soldier had stopped him and, pointing to his gun, had said “There’s a bullet here in the gun for your son Aidan”. On 21 February 1988, Aidan McAnespie was walking across the border to a GAA game. He had just passed the ‘security’ post when he was hit in the back by a bullet fired by a soldier and killed. The soldier said his finger slipped and the gun discharged accidentally. He was fined for negligent handling of a weapon.
So in the course of the interview, Michelle Gildernew made reference to this killing and suggested that people like the soldier who killed Aidan were in fact terrorists. Arlene Foster was seen to roll her eyes at the mention of McAnespie.
I know of at least one case where it was pointed out that an IRA victim worked for the ‘security’ forces. There was immediate outrage on all sides, claims that this would be hurtful to his loved ones, and steps taken to see that the person who pointed out this fact was barred from media access in future.
Here we have a political party leader who reacts to the mention of the unpunished killing of a young man with an oh-for-God’s-sake roll of the eyes. The message clearly was that even to mention the young man’s killing was wearisome – certainly no thought was given to the feelings of his loved ones. Will Arlene Foster be barred from media access in future? Will Sammy Wilson attach feathers to his rear and loop the loop over Belfast Lough?
It is vital that our politicians and people in both communities affect reconciliation with each other. That, however, can only be done if both sides are shown equal respect. At present that is far from the case, and Arlene Foster should think seriously whether she owes an apology to the McAnespie family. We simply can’t go on having one set of rules for nationalists and republicans, and another for unionists. To meekly accept such imbalance is no service to either community.