WHY did so many politicians call on John Finucane not to address the South Armagh republican commemoration last Sunday? The DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said: "The victims that I talked to feel that this reopens the wounds for them, it compels them to revisit the trauma that they experienced during the Troubles."

DUP Newry and Armagh MLA William Irwin said: "This event is not about 'healing the wounds of the past', rather it appears specifically tailored to encourage a new generation to revel in the actions which caused many of those wounds."

Even the Alliance Party gave a thumbs-down. Sorcha Eastwood declared: "Not only does it bring huge hurt to the victims of terrorism but it sends out the wrong message to dissident groups today and those they seek to recruit. I call on John Finucane to rethink his addressing this event and instead think about the impact his participation would have.”

All of which sounds compassionate and caring: John Finucane addressing the commemoration would add to the pain of IRA victims. Except concern for victims is unlikely to be the driving force behind these politicians’ words. More likely they sprang from a pressing desire to bend the past into a shape they want. For unionist politicians, the past must be a place where blood-crazed terrorists killed Protestants and would still be doing so if the British Army and the RUC hadn’t defeated them. 

Having Sinn Féin’s John Finucane as speaker at the IRA commemoration threatened that neatly-shaped narrative. John Finucane’s own father was shot dead before his wife and family by loyalist terrorists, almost certainly colluding with the RUC. Which should make him part of the Good Guys side, but doesn’t, because he’s part of Sinn Féin, is a republican and has insisted on honouring the republican dead of South Armagh. 

Tánaiste Micheál Martin, predictably, was quick to damn Finucane’s speech plans. The North Belfast MP was trying “to ride two horses”  by calling for investigation of ‘security’ force actions while commemorating  the IRA in South Armagh. “Heinous crimes were carried out right across Northern Ireland by the Provisional IRA,” Mr Martin stated. 

As the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin has for years been riding two horses himself, as has his party. Back as far as 1969,  Fianna Fáil leader Jack Lynch made it clear that the Irish Army could not and would not stand idly by while Catholics in NEI were being attacked and killed. Only  then it emerged that  Jack’s idea of not standing idly by was to set up a few refugee camps across the border.

Alas for the Tánaiste and unionist politicians, their efforts to massage and mould the past is something that history resists.

Check the history. The “good old IRA” of the early years of the twentieth century, whom the Tánaiste happily honours, did pretty much the same kind of thing that the IRA of our more recent Troubles did. So if Bodenstown commemoration is okay, and if cenotaph commemoration is okay, there’s no way out – South Armagh commemoration is likewise okay.

Closing your eyes to this, Micheál and Jeffrey and William and Sorcha, won’t make it go away. Closing your eyes to it makes you look childish and hypocritical, which is not a good look for any mature politician.