19 June 2024

Why can’t Sinn Fein’s candidates condemn the IRA?


One of the survivors of the 1987 IRA Remembrance Sunday massacre in Enniskillen described his injuries when he regained consciousness in the rubble:

My mouth was blown out. My jaw was missing on the right-hand side. I was split open nine inches from my chin to my ear. My face and tongue were paralysed. I had nine broken ribs. My pelvis, two hips and one leg were smashed.

Most normal people would have no hesitation in condemning what was done to Jim Dixon and the other townspeople murdered beside him as straightforward terrorism. That is beyond the capability of Pat Cullen, the Sinn Fein candidate standing for that constituency in the forthcoming Westminster elections. 

When challenged directly to condemn the slaughter on BBC Radio Ulster, all Ms Cullen had in response was evasive word salad: ‘Those were very dark days’ she said, ‘let’s not go back there’.

Cullen’s formulaic response of generalised sadness at the loss of life in the same way we might regret a lost suitcase is drilled into all Sinn Fein’s Westminster candidates. But her reaction says something rather more about her character when you consider her previous role as the UK Head of The Royal College of Nursing. 

When the bomb cut through those innocent people standing around the Cenotaph in the centre of Fermanagh’s County seat, it destroyed the lives of three nurses, two retired and one just starting out on a caring career. Alberta Quinton, Jessie Johnston and Marie Wilson, who had all devoted a life to caring for others regardless of creed were wiped out by the sort of people Sinn Fein lionises as ‘patriots’ to this day.

The atrocity reverberated around the world. The Royal College of Nursing sent a message of sympathy to their families from its annual general meeting. How times change. The future King who presides over the RCN’s royal charter visited victims in the local hospital. It was a crime so nakedly sectarian it was even condemned by the Kremlin.

Lack of condemnation aside, Cullen’s desire to ‘not go back there’ might sound a worthy enough sentiment, but it ignores a central indigestible truth – that Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland is chained to the past as completely as the political opponents they accuse of living there. 

With her pedigree, Cullen could have stood as a champion for improved healthcare in her adopted constituency for all. Northern Ireland’s NHS is by some margin the worst performing in the UK. The local acute hospital is understaffed and underfunded. 

As it stands, if elected, she will, like all of Sinn Fein’s MPs, refuse to turn up at Westminster while pretending that it makes no difference. Her behaviour will have re-traumatised a large section of the Unionist community who have never seen anyone charged, let alone convicted of the crime that was felt around the world. 

Cullen ended her foray into the media by parading her credentials as a former community psychiatric nurse. Terrorist violence put far more people into asylums than into the ground during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Then as now, violent extremism can be enabled and perpetuated by people who cash in their conscience for political capital. Speaking of victims of the violence, she said. ‘I’ve felt, heard and seen their trauma’. This is not nearly enough.

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Professor Ian Acheson is Senior Advisor to the Counter Extremism Project.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.