How to use words so they damage an electoral candidate

I was listening to a brief part of the Nolan Show on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster yesterday morning. Stephen Nolan, ably assisted by that regular voice, Thomas of North Belfast (or was it George from the Shankill – they interchange so smoothly) was once again presenting Sean Kelly and, by association, John Finucane, as the epitome of evil.

Stephen and Thomas/George appeared to have two major sins they were attaching to Kelly – and, of course, by association, to John Finucane.  The first was that he had been guilty of mass murder and the second that he had expressed no contrition for what he had done.

The trouble with talking about terrible deeds is that people are in such a state of boiling sympathy, they don’t listen to anyone else. So  I beg you to read carefully this next bit.

If, as  Nolan and Thomas/George maintained, Sean Kelly was guilty of the murder of all those innocent people in the Shankill bomb, then he was also guilty of murdering his comrade Thomas Begley, a charge I’ve never heard levelled at him. The obvious fact is, the Shankill bomb exploded prematurely. Kelly and Begley had in mind the killing of some prominent members of the UDA, which could be described as intended murder.  They did not have in mind the killing of the people in the fish shop, if only because they had no intention of becoming suicide bombers.

I’m guessing that people call what happened that day murder because they want to call the killings by the foulest name they can, which is understandable. But it’s also to undermine the meaning of words. Murder is intentional killing, and you may be sure neither Begley nor Kelly intended to kill the innocent people in the fish shop, if for no other reason than it obviously could – would, in the case of Begley – result in their own deaths.

But Stephen and Thomas/George appear to prefer to make words mean anything they want.

The second charge levelled at Kelly, and by implication John Finucane, was that Kelly has shown no remorse for his actions. On the face of it, that’s a reasonable charge. Most of us would feel remorse if we did something that led to the deaths of innocent people, and Kelly certainly did that.

But why Kelly? Literally hundreds of IRA men and women were involved in violent, sometimes lethal actions against their fellow human beings during the Troubles.  To take one example: Martin McGuinnness is generally regarded as having been a major figure, if not the major figure, in the IRA.  McGuinness not only didn’t show remorse for his paramilitary actions, he publicly declared on more than one occasion that he was very proud of his time in the IRA.  And yet no unionist I can think of called on him to show remorse, or denounced him for declaring his pride in the IRA.

Like compassion in this society, condemnation tends to operate very selectively. Certainly yesterday on the Nolan Show, we had condemnation by those who clearly don’t understand or don’t want to understand the meaning of words ,and who have no problem with vilifying X while giving Y a free pass.

But sure, if it could stop John Finucane winning in North Belfast, it’d all be worthwhile. Wouldn’t it?  

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