THE weekend Sinn Féin Ard Fheis was a museum-quality example of the task facing those of us who are intent on moving forward from the most recent phase of conflict here.
As usual, the event was slick and professional, the numbers and the optics so much more advanced than that of other parties on the island that it’s little wonder that the party is currently experiencing its most positive polling ever. But again, a quarter of a century after the IRA left the stage, the substance of the event was quickly passed over in favour of depressingly familiar rants from depressingly familiar voices about answers to questions that are designed to produce answers to feed the voracious appetite of the anti-republican media North and South for ‘What about the IRA?’ stories.
And so it was that contributions from delegates from all over the island on housing, education, the cost of living, the climate and global conflict were at best relegated and at worst ignored in favour of the issue of the day: ‘Were the IRA any better than gangsters?’
That such questions continue to command so many column inches and so much airtime 25 years on from the commencement of a hard-won ceasefire is a damning indictment of the quality of reporting and commentary in the pro-union media, but when such questions about the past take precedence over the continuing violence of still armed and still active loyalist paramilitaries, then the truth of the matter becomes blindingly obvious. And the truth is that those who continue to obsess about the IRA – while ignoring the narco-gangs of the UDA and UVF who have never for a second taken their boots off the neck of their community – are engaged in an entirely cynical attempt to hold back the Sinn Féin tide. How else are we to explain the toe-curling hypocrisy of crying crocodile tears over historical tragedies while ignoring tragedies that are happening in the here and now?
Should we care to undertake one, an audit of the righteous indignation of the most vocal IRA critics down through the years would reveal the grotesquely skewed nature of their indignation and show it to be anything but righteous.
It was ever thus, of course, and while such industrial-scale propagandising has in the past hobbled Sinn Féin’s attempts to grow its electoral base, the old media monoliths are creaking and cracking and young people who never bought a newspaper in their lives and who are entirely unacquainted with radio phone-ins and Sunday morning politics shows are immune to the threadbare single-narrative history evinced by the guardians of the status quo.
It’s the same old story, but fewer and fewer people are listening to it and even fewer people are taken in by it. And that rejection of the tired old hypocrisies will have been copperfastened by the DUP’s desperate attempt to legislate for the requirement of a ‘supermajority’ to secure a united Ireland.
A new day is dawning and attempts to stop the sun from rising will fail miserably.