For a smart man, Fintan O’Toole can be very stupid. In this morning’s Irish Times, he has an article entitled ‘How long will Sinn Féin cover the IRA in a blanket of amoral amnesty?’
The article takes aim at Tom McFeely, who, as you probably know, was an IRA volunteer. “He was commanding officer of the IRA prisoners in Long Kesh and led the first hunger strike in 1980, which he endured for 53 days,” Fintan tells us.
Fintan then does a nimble swerve back to 1972, to remind us of the Claudy bomb in which nine civilians died, “including an eight-year-old girl and two teenage boys”.He then paper-clips Claudy with That Sentence in Michelle O’Neill’s recent interview: “I think at the time there was no alternative [to armed struggle]” The way Fintan sees it, Claudy is covered “by O’Neill’s blanket amnesty.” He also quotes Tom McFeely on the Claudy bomb. He wasn’t involved in it, “but if I’d been there I would have planted the bombs. It is the reality of war. I only regret I wasn’t able to do more.”
Fintan then devotes a paragraph to the gory details of the Claudy bomb with which McFeely had nothing to do. Then Fintan identifies two McFeelys in one body. “The okay McFeely — maybe even the good and brave one who did what had to be done — is the one who would have been happy to burn children alive. The McFeely to be criticised is the developer who did not fix fire safety defects.”
Maybe it’s time to point out some things Fintan seems to have missed.
- The Claudy bomb, like several other IRA explosions, was a bungled operation. Even James Simmons (no IRA fan) notes in his poem ‘Claudy’, that the IRA bombers tried to telephone a warning but failed. Besides, McFeely wasn’t involved in it. So why does Fintan linger repeatedly over the innocent victims of that village?
- Fintan notes the harsh criticism Sinn Féin’s Eoin O Broin has for McFeely the property developer, then mockingly asks who suffered most, the people in Claudy or the people involved in McFeely’s housing development? Dear God. It’s not a contest, Fintan. The blood shed in Claudy has nothing to do with housing development schemes in Dublin decades later. Yes, I know, I know: it would have been neater if McFeely had been involved in the Claudy bombing. But he wasn’t.
- People who joined the IRA were not conscripts. That’s why they’re called Volunteers. When joining, it was pointed out that their chances of being dead or serving a long prison sentence inside the next couple of years were high. But they still joined in their thousands. Some went on hunger strike and died. What sane person would do the likes of that if they could see an alternative?
- Sinn Féin does not “carry the dead weight of atrocity”, Fintan. Very few of the Sinn Féin party led by Mary Lou McDonald were even born when the Claudy bomb exploded. So how can they be “carrying an atrocity” which happened when they weren’t so much as a twinkle in their da’s eye?
- People do different things at different stages of their life. McFeely at one stage was committed to the IRA, and was prepared to die for their cause; in later years, he appears to have become a dodgy housing developer. People change. You, Fintan, may once have been an idealistic young scribbler, committed to fair-minded newspaper reporting. Now you use your polished skills to lambast all things republican, for which The Irish Times doubtless pays you well. I mean, you managed to squeeze Eoin O Broin, Michelle O’Neill and Tom McFeely all into a single atrocity bag marked ‘Claudy’ and held it up so IT readers could share your moral indignation. That takes skill.
But psst, Fintan. It won’t work. The people of the south know Sinn Féin’s history as well as their present-day policies, and more and more keep voting for Shinner candidates. Yes indeed. If opinion polls are to be believed, the southern electorate, eyes open, endorse Sinn Féin. The public have spoken, Fintan. The bastards.