Fintan O’Toole’s column on the unacknowledged ‘disaster’ Sinn Fein supposedly imposed on the Irish people is based on a twin conceit. The first is that those younger than him know nothing about and are uninterested in the 1968 – 97 northern conflict. The second is that older folk like him, who lived through it, have the memory he promotes. The conflict in the North is the subject of innumerable books, articles and commentary, by historians, political scientists, journalists, politicians, other interested observers and participants. Many are appreciably younger than Fintan O’Toole. On that basis, an interest in recent Irish history is safe in their hands. I get the impression that for O’Toole the real problem is that many have the ‘wrong’ interest.
O’Toole asserts, surprisingly, that those the IRA buried in undisclosed places during the recent ‘Troubles’ are not much subject to investigation or commentary. In fact the effort to recover remains is assisted by a statutory body that seeks assistance from those involved in the burials. Its activities have been widely reported and commented upon, as have the circumstances under which the victims were killed. The 16 or so who vanished over 30 years of conflict have received far more publicity than 89 people who disappeared over two years, who O’Toole ignores. It is estimated that the ‘good old’ IRA buried that many secretly between 1920-21 (106 in total, from 1920-23).
In a strained analogy, O’Toole compares what he sees as lack of publicity on the post 1968 conflict with lots on 800 babies buried by Bon Secours nuns in Tuam from the 1920s to the 1960s. Again, the IRA campaign and Sinn Fein were subject to persistent quite negative establishment-media commentary, for about fifty years. The Tuam discovery was made in 2014. That is why that story is fresh in people’s minds. No navel gazing in contemplation of the vagaries of memory by introspective readers is required.
History, like politics is on contested terrain, as Diarmaid Ferriter points out in his article on Fine Gael narratives on the Treaty (August 27th) and on its political legacy for Fianna Fail politicians (August 28th). Let the contest take place and stop bemoaning whether one thing or another is not sufficiently addressed (particularly as Fintan O’Toole may return to the subject any time he so chooses).