I wonder if, in recent days, Mrs Stanley has said sharply to her husband Brian “In the name of God, would you quit that damned tweeting – here’s another fine mess you’ve got us in!” Or words to that effect.
For indeed, Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley has provoked outrage in the breast of Arlene Foster and presumably others with his tweet comparing the famous Kilmichael ambush of the 1920s with the equally famous Narrow Water killings of the 1970s : “ “Kilmicheal (1920) and Narrow Water (1979) the 2 IRA operations that taught the elite of d British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. Pity for everyone they were such slow learners.”
The tweet raises two questions: (i) Is the tweet telling the truth?; and (ii) should it have been written?
So let’s look at the truth or otherwise of what it says.
It mentions two famous ambushes – one at Kilmichael in Co Cork in 1920 and one in Narrow Water, Warrenpoint in 1979. Apart from the misspelling, Stanley got that bit right.
His tweet says the IRA “taught the elite of d British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland”. In the Cork attack of 1920, the IRA killed seventeen British Auxiliary soldiers. In the Warrenpoint attack of 1979, the IRA killed eighteen British soldiers, mainly of the Parachute regiment. Again, Stanley is right: that’s what happened.
He then adds that it taught the British military and British establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. I don’t think anyone would dispute the point in terms of the Kilmichael ambush.
Arlene Foster and many unionists would dispute the word “occupying” as applied to the 1979 ambush. But that’s how the majority of republicans and nationalists regarded the British army in the north during the more recent Troubles. Occupying, posted, serving – whatever verb you choose, nobody would dispute that the soldiers were British soldiers and that they were in the north of Ireland/Northern Ireland. To which many nationalists would add that the Parachute regiment involved in the Narrow Water deaths had themselves, some seven years earlier, shot dead ten innocent people in Ballymurphy and, a few months later, fourteen innocent people in Derry. Once again, Stanley is speaking the truth; what might be disputed is his word “occupying”. But that being in Ireland did cost the lives of British soldiers in both cases is indisputable.
Finally, “Pity for everyone they were such slow learners.” It’s hard to think of anyone, unionist or nationalist or republican, who wouldn’t feel it was a pity that the horrific killings of the Troubles occurred. Even Queen Elizabeth allowed that there were some matters in the past we all might wish had been done differently or not at all. The blood and tears of the Troubles would certainly come under that wish. As indeed would the fact that it took so long for those involved in the conflict to learn that it was going nowhere.
So when you look carefully at Brian Stanley’s statement, he really hasn’t said anything that is inaccurate or untrue. Arlene Foster speaks of it as “glorifying violence”. But isn’t that what many people do every November: pay tribute to, honour, salute the gallant men and women in the British armed forces who fought and died, never in their own country, but always in someone else’s?